The search for my great great grandfather Telesforo Carrillo began with a fiction of sorts, created by his death certificate of 1920. Here the gap between who he was when he started and who he was at the end of his life widens.
In his death certificate, both a baker and a plumber witnessed the testimony of the informant, his son in law, my great grandfather Juan Fernandez Quinta.
He gave details that led nowhere unless one followed the women. I suspected my great grandfather Telesforo might be an hijo natural, a birth deemed illegitimate by law. With his mother listed as Maria Carrillo, the name Maria yielded nothing, so I set it aside until I could find records that encompassed their lives. A century later, this mosaic of relationships becomes a little clearer.
Telesforo Matos Ramos F75 #206 im 742 25 Marzo 1920 Declarante: Juan Fernandez Quinta, casado, proprietario, natural de Espana, casa Num pda 44 de la calle Loiza, Santurce, yerno natural de Rio Grande, vecino de Santurce 85, blanco, industrial, viudo de Andrea Maldonado, natural de Trujillo Alto, ya difunta avecinado pda 225 Calle La Calma causa: senilidad, 10PM 23 Mar 1920, hl Jose Matos & Maria Carrillo difuntos que el declarante ignora los nombres de los abuelos del difunto Testigos: JP Medina, plomero, nat Fajardo & Catalino Gutiérrez, panadero, San Juan Encargado RC: Juan Requena
The search that never ended
Why was he listed as Matos Ramos? Did my great grandfather misstate his father in law’s name, or did the secretary manage to be distracted and simply entered ‘Ramos’ on the margin? At the end of Telesforo’s life, his parents appear as Jose Matos and Maria Carrillo, both long gone, and that he was their legitimate child. What I eventually learned was much more complicated. With all of the name changes over the decades for his daughter Catalina, my grandfather’s mother.
For a very long time I turned nothing up on Telesforo, so instead I searched records up his grandson, my grandfather, Ramon Fernandez Matos, born in 1900. When I was little, his birthday was celebrated at the end of August, or rather, he celebrated it with his friends. That date didn’t come up in the Registro Civil, and neither did the name.
Just a month ago, I decided i’d try searching with the Carrillo name, and, lo and behold!! He turned up as Ramon Fernandez Carrillo, and the birth certificate that eluded me for so long finally came up, along with that of another sibling. Oddly enough, Telesforo and Catalina’s previous son, Andres, appears as Andrea Fernandez Matos, with his maternal grandparents listed as “Telesforo Matos y Andrea Maldonado de San Juan.”
As an adult, my grandfather Ramon used Matos as his maternal surname. I had never heard of Carrillo until I started tracing his mother, my great grandmother, Catalina (1862-1966). She too had several surnames at different times in her life, and it’s still unclear if the additional uses provided some kind of protection or cover for her.
She appears as an hija natural of Andrea Maldonado in the baptismal record of May 1862 from Nuestra Señora del Carmen, Rio Grande1. She was the first of Telesforo and Andrea’s 13 children, once a costurera, a dress maker who actually cut and made men’s suits in San Juan. She grew up in an area of Santurce that was full of skilled artisans and workers, Barrio Obrero. Telesforo Carrillo was a carpintero, a carpenter and laborer still working the year before he died in 1920 at 75 years of age.
A Glimpse of Youth
Recently my cousin, genealogist Maria Kreider sent me a link to an early record for Telesforo, who turned up in the 1850 Padron de habitantes for Rio Grande. Filmed by the LDS in 1987, this census record comes out of the AGPR’s (Archivo General de Puerto Rico) collection of municipal documents, here the Alcaldia Municipal for Rio Grande. The files consist of two Cajas, A and B; Caja A holds Cédulas de vecindad y padrones Caja A 1860, 1871, 1875, 1880, 1882, 1888, 1898 Caja B 1860-1870. In 1850 Rio Grande was a recent municipality founded in 1840, when it split from Loiza. It was named after the river that joins the Rio Espiritu Santo in North East Puerto Rico, perched between the northeastern coast and the Sierra Luquillo mountains1.
In 1858, he lived in Barrio San Francisco, which was a portion of the town that has since been renamed. In December 1860, he was living with his grandmother, Agustina Carrillo Santiago, 78 years old as head of household, and he appears as Telesforo Carrillo, 18 years old, working as a laborer. The other person living with them was Estevan Pinto y Estrada, a 75 year old widower. None were literate.
The next page is even more illuminating.
This was a household of Free People of Color, two of them widowed, all born on the island. What I learned about Augustina is that at an advanced age, she took care of her grandson, Telesforo, not yet the legal age of adulthood. His youth meant that her daughter, Maria Ysabel Carrillo, had already died- she does not turn up in this series of documents. So far, the man listed as Teleforo’s father, Jose Matos, only appears on his death record. Agustina Carrillo Santiago (1765-1865) herself was unmarried. This is two generations of a female headed household. Besides Maria Ysabel, she had Julian Carrillo b. 1840 in Rio Grande, who later married Petronila Caraballo Hernandez bca. 1845.
Estevan Pinto Estrada was the widow of Toribia Perez, who died before 1860; his relatives also married Carrillos. Whether he was a partner to Agustina or a boarder in the home are questions that may never be answered. As Free People of Color they would have had access to the courts and to town councils, but still carried a liability as ultimately one could not transcend their class or condition. [Kinsbruner 38; 43-44] What more could I learn of their origins?
Losing Elders, Losing Family
The incredibly fragile pages from la Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Carmen, Rio Grande of 15 May 1865 holds three deaths tied by blood and location. On the upper left is the record for Augustina Carrillo Santiago, and on the facing page, is that of Estevan Pinto Estrada. Below him is the record for Gregorio Carrillo, Agustina’s grandson, the child of Julian Carrillo and Petronila Caraballo. None were able to accept the sacraments before dying, indicating a sudden death. There are more Carrillos and Pintos in adjacent pages listed in this volume of Entierros (Burials).
So far I have found no additional information on what took place whether a fire or epidemic took their lives. They are among my Afro-Indigenous ancestors, part of an ongoing ethnocide as the government ended the use of the term’Indio‘ and instead reduced them to colors, uncoupling any political recognition of the local from a longer, deeper history of living on Boriken.
I found Agustina in an 1827 baptism for Maria Nonanta Bartolome Robles at the Parroquia del Espiritu Santo y San Patricio of Loiza, Puerto Rico. On that date, both Agustina and her brother Pablo Carrillo served as godparents, and were identified as ‘Morenos libres” or ‘Free Coloreds’.
Maria Kreider’s gift of sending me the 1860 Padron that listed Agustina and my second great grandfather Telesforo led me to my fifth great grandparents, Simon Carrillo and Josefa Santiago. who were probably born in the 1760s, in Loiza. From what I have seen, there are three clusters of families with the Carrillo surname in the early nineteenth century: Spanish emigres, Afro Indigenous creoles and African descended free and enslaved.
Among the oral history I heard, Catalina Carrillo, great granddaughter of Simon and Josefa maintained an altar, and included among the statues was the figure of an American Indian. However manifested, the woven syncretism of her belief system remembered Native ancestors, never forgotten as part of a local, spiritual sustenance. All of these layers are hidden behind the multiple descriptions and names of Telesforo Carrillo over the arc of his life.
“Puerto Rico, registros parroquiales, 1645-1969”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:WG7D-392M : 9 April 2020), Esteban Pinto, 1865.
“Puerto Rico, registros parroquiales, 1645-1969”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:W649-8WPZ : 14 November 2019), Josefa Santiago in entry for Agustina Carrillo, 1865.
Jay Kinsbruner, Not of Pure Blood: The Free People of Color and Racial Prejudice in Nineteenth Century Puerto Rico. Duke University Press, 1996.
A supplement for Episode 89: Dangerous Liaisons: Jailbird Relatives and The Freaky Underside of Genealogy. Black ProGen Live! July 30, 2019
There’s no family history left untouched in some way by underground economies and prostitution. Prostitution or sex work, can be understood as a means of survival first and second, an avocation, either by choice or coercion. Beyond the economic question of support, there are questions about the nature of history that can exclude the marginalized worker, questions around ideas of gender, masculinity, power and the network of beliefs and the structure of law that declares it legal, illegal or a fusion of the two. So, if we think about family histories that deal with aspects of an underground economy, it means dealing with variables in time and place. For many this was a temporary connection or situation, a form of employment that was often unpredictable. Only for a select few, was it a situation under their direct control.
In art, prostitution is the subject of painting, literature, cinema and photography; it shapes the nature of urban, modern experience and informs the realms of tourism and the military. There are stereotypes that circulate in popular culture, in different societies, best viewed as means of defining ideas and assumptions around gender, race and various social boundaries. Looking further back, sexual slavery was also a feature of the transatlantic slave trade that used men women and children,and there’s the trafficking that continues into the present.. Columbus established a sex trade on Hispanola by 1490, with children as young as 9 years old serving as sex slaves.
Prostitution as an organized business arrived in Puerto Rico (and by extension to other colonies) with Spanish colonization in the sixteenth century. After the Spanish American War, for example, policing these boundaries of gender and race drew on discourses of eugenics and public health, so that women were subjected to moral judgements, incarceration, forced medical treatment and framed them both as a targeted category of control and as fulfillment of eugenic policies. Any behavior viewed as questionable by women living in poverty, or regarded as promiscuous, were targeted and swept up as a means of social control, even if they never worked ‘the life’.
Family, Context, Options and Motivation
Understanding how illicit businesses like prostitution, numbers running, and black market participation shapes your family history, can open up a history of different social networks, and is an opportunity to understand the various social constraints and options people faced to sell the only thing they had left to sell to survive.
Often there is an economic reason that leaves people in desperate situations, as with the women mantua makers of the 1840s whose poor pay for long hours hand sewing then-fashionable hooded outerwear. As they contended with rising expenses many were left working a sex trade in order to make ends meet. Some were persons who suddenly found themselves without other means of support; still others (a much smaller group) decide on it as a business, contending with the legal structures on the local and national level to keep business going. Employment by any means necessary was for some, key to survival. In Harlem of the 1930s, Stephanie St. Clair known as “Queenie”, “Madam Queen”, “Madam St. Clair”, and “Queen of the Policy Rackets”, ran a numbers racket that kept some 2,000 people employed during the Great Depression, despite attempts by the Mafia to take her empire over. When a young man in New York City, my paternal grandfather kept food on the table for his family by being a numbers runner, the person who brought the bets to the bookie.
Violence & social control
Depending on the age and racial designation, there may be no effort to help or investigate the murder of sex workers, denying justice as well as legal and medical support services to those who remain. Or, there is wholesale denial on offer, as with the so-called Korean ‘Comfort Women‘ forced to serve the Japanese Army during WW2, who went on the promise of factory employment and instead found themselves in harrowing conditions. Yet, acknowledgement and apologies from the Japanese government were not forthcoming. Oral histories are key to knowing and understanding what happened.
Violence, repression and incarceration are also part of the picture, adding to the complexity of understanding the past. Law enforcement was anything but consistent. Conditions vary, whether streetwalking, brothel, escort, and the legal stance per country can exacerbate or support those involved, and class made a huge difference. Military prostitution, child prostitution, trafficking and tourism are other aspects to consider when researching the past. The question of slavery, whether legal condition or condition of labor repeatedly comes up. Studies do show it’s better to have regulation and laws that protect the worker rather than have an illicit trade where it is not those who labor who gain the income.
Finding Information: Some Resources
Oral histories, photographs, police reports, newspapers, census and military records, are just some of the materials in various collections that may have information on a family member. As the essay from the Framing Resources site at GMU notes, there is no one class, cultural, religious or social perspective on prostitution, and it’s a field of study that has much to offer in terms of understanding the historical context of family histories involved with the practice, some of it very recent. Also the site provides a small area that lays out some questions helpful for working on genealogical research in terms of the nature of primary and secondary materials you’ll encounter in libraries, special collections both online and off.
Take a look at Tyler Schulze’s Black Sheep Ancestor pages “Search for your Blacksheep Ancestors in Free Genealogical Prison and Convict Records, Historical Court Records, Executions, Insane Asylum Records and Biographies of Famous Outlaws, Criminals & Pirates in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada” http://blacksheepancestors.com
The Internet Archive has over 1400 items in a search result, some of them guidebooks, others, legal statutes published during the 19th century, books and other related materials to download or borrow. See link below.
Also included are the links to special collections on Storyville, New Orleans from the Library of Congress website. Please scroll down towards the end of this post.
This list is not exhaustive, but intended to give a sense of the wide variety of materials and approaches that you can apply to your searches.
“Framing Resources Essay: Case study on prostitution” – Women in World History Website “These varied materials reflect differing class, cultural, religious, and social perspectives on prostitution, especially in the modern, Western world. They tell us what observers thought about prostitution and how their attitudes changed over time. Until recently, there were few personal accounts by prostitutes to provide clues about their varying motivations or their attitudes toward the governments, organizations, or individuals that sought to regulate the practice or abolish prostitution. Oral histories as well as the anthropological and sociological studies that document the lives of prostitutes, many of them from Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe and almost all of them poor, have begun filling this gap.” http://chnm.gmu.edu/wwh/essay/essay.php?c=resources&r=case
Andy McCarthy, “Genealogy Tips: New York City Cops in the City Record.”
“…For the five boroughs, there really is no collection of historical “police records.…”
NYPL Record Requests: FOIL
Revista Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña. Carlos A Rodriguez Villanueva, “Amor licito e ilícito: un escape a los patrones amorosos establecidos [Historia socio-sexual en ella Caribe Hispanico, siglos XVIII-XIX: Cuba, Santo Domingo y Puerto Rico]”; Jose E Flores Ramos, “Vida cotidiana de la prostitutas en San Juan de Puerto Rico: 1890-1919”; Nelly Vazquez Sortillo, “La violencia dentro de la violencia: un caso de violencia domestica en una hacienda esclavista en Puerto Rico (1871).”. 2006 vol 13, 2nd series. Issue downloadable from issuu.com https://issuu.com/coleccionpuertorriquena/docs/segunda_serie_n__mero_13
348 Dra. Nieves de los Ángeles Vázquez Lazo “Historia de la prostitución en Puerto Rico, de 1876 a 1917.” Angel Collazo Schwarz, La Voz del Centro http://www.vozdelcentro.org/2009/08/23/la-historia-de-la-prostitucion-en-puerto-rico/ Podcast: http://www.vozdelcentro.org/mp3/Prog_348.mp3
“1970s New York City: The dangerous & gritty streets during a decade of decline.” NY Daily News. Photographs of NYC’s sex workers included. https://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/gritty-new-york-city-1970s-gallery-1.1318521
Timothy J Gilfoyle, City of Eros: New York City, Prostitution, and the Commercialization of Sex, 1790-1920. (1994)
Christine Stansell, City of Women: Sex and Class in New York, 1789-1860. (1987)
Shirley Stewart, The World of Stephanie St. Clair, An Entrepreneur, Race Woman and Outlaw in Early Twentieth Century Harlem. Peter Lang Publishers, 2014.
LaShawn Harris, Sex Workers, Psychics and Numbers Runners: Black Women in New York City’s Underground Economy. U Illinois Press, 2016.
Shane White, Graham White, Stephen Garton, Stephen Robertson, Playing the Numbers: Gambling in Harlem Between the Wars. Harvard UP, 2010.
Karen Abbott, Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys and the Battle for America’s Soul. [Chicago] Random House, (2008).
Laura Briggs, Reproducing Empire: Race, Sex, Science and US Imperialism in Puerto Rico, University California Press, (2002).
Eileen J Suarez Findlay, Imposing Decency: The politics of sexuality and race in Puerto Rico, 1870-1920. Duke UP (1999).
Donna J. Seifert, Elizabeth Barthold O’Brien, & Joseph Balicki, “Mary Ann’s First Class House: The Archaeology of a Capital Brothel.” Robert A Schmidt & Barbara L. Voss, Archaeologies of Sexuality. Routledge, (2000), 117-128.
Wild West Book Review: Jan McKell’s Red Light Women of the Rocky Mountains UNM Press, 2009 https://www.historynet.com/wild-west-book-review-red-light-women.htm
Heather Branstetter, A Business Doing Pleasure: Selling Sex in the Silver Valley 1884-1991. Wallace, Idaho. (author blog) https://abusinessdoingpleasure.com Race & the Houses https://abusinessdoingpleasure.com/2017/08/17/race-and-the-houses/ Files at the Shoshone County Sheriff’s Office https://abusinessdoingpleasure.com/2014/10/02/aboutthescsofiles/
“Garden of Truth: the trafficking of Native Women in Minnesota.” Minnesota Indian Women Sexual Assault Coalition. Report (2011) https://vawnet.org/material/garden-truth-prostitution-and-trafficking-native-women-minnesota
“Prostitution: A violent reality of homelessness” (2001) report https://www.issuelab.org/resource/prostitution-a-violent-reality-of-homelessness.html
Historical resource Medievalists.net list of posts on prostitution, various locations during the medieval period http://www.medievalists.net/tag/prostitution/
Hell’s Half Acre, 2017 [Victorian Los Angeles] https://la.curbed.com/2017/11/17/16654292/history-prostitution-los-angeles
Selected Items from the Internet Archive, Archive.org items
Modern Pornography & Sex Work Collection, 1960-1990. University of South Florida
CSUN, The Oldest Profession (Collections overview)
Dr Bonnie Bullough Collection, 1954-2000. CSUN, Oviatt Library, Special Collections
Reverend Wendell M Miller Collection, 1928-1988.
Citizens independent Vice Investigating Committee (CIVIC) CSUN, Oviatt Library, Special Collections
Prostitution Collection, 1834-1954., Five Colleges (MA)
Prostitution at Brigham Young University, 1997
Minnie Fischer Cunningham Papers, Standard Statistics on Prostitution Syphilis & Gonorrhea (1919)
Guide to Shelley Bristol Papers UNLV
The Real Rainbow Row, Charleston Hotel College of Charleston, Special Collections https://speccoll.cofc.edu/the-real-rainbow-row/charleston-hotel-200-meeting-street/
The Library of Congress’ page on Storyville has several special collections from New Orleans which I have included below.
Storyville: A resource guide to commercialized Vice in New Orleans. Library of Congress
Storyville: a resource guide to sources about commercialized vice in historic New Orleans.
Table of Contents
Selected Book Titles
LC Subject Headings
Archives of the City of New Orleans. New Orleans Public Library.
This includes ordinances related to prostitution.
Louisiana State Archives. Baton Rouge.
See Research Historical Records section.
Louisiana and Special Collections. Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans.
Includes the following collections: New Orleans Chamber of Commerce Records, MSS 66 and Josie Arlington Collection, MSS 270.
Louisiana Research Collection. Howard-Tilton Library, Tulane University.
Search in the following collections:
Al Rose Collection, RG 606 : Although listed as a jazz archive, Storyville was the place to hear jazz musicians. Search: Prostitution.
Master Rolls, Battalion Washington Artillery: 1861-1865.
New Orleans Travelers’ Aid Society Papers, RG 365.
New Orleans Records. New Orleans City Archives, Louisiana Division New Orleans Public Library.
This collection includes arrest records, arrest index, ‘Jewell’s Digest of the City Ordinances’, etc.
Note: this collection is also available on microfilm at the Library of Congress.
New Orleans. Ordinances, etc. Jewell’s Digest of the city ordinances, Rev. ed. New Orleans, 1887.
LC Call Number: Microfilm 21895 JS
LC Catalog record: 47035734
Williams Research Center. Historic New Orleans Collection.
Blue Books in the Williams Research Center’s collection, probably the largest extant, is available for research. View one of the digitized Blue Books here. Please contact the center for more information.
Last updated: 02/09/2018
How many Jose, Maria and Juans have you come across in your tree? Frequently repeated first names can reflect religious preferences, as in Saints Day names or Marian names. The repetition of names can also be a simple preference due to precedents within families or by popularity. Sorting out whether a name that keeps cropping up are made up of one or multiple first and last names requires caution as one seeks the supplemental evidence that adds weight to a proof. Even better is locating a document where the informant knew quite a bit about the deceased, to the point of citing several marriages, parents, children or grandparents. There are documents that just begin to knock some brick walls down– and this 1904 document provides just such a moment.
The son who remembered
When Jose Antonio Caban Nieves died in 1904, his son, Lorenzo Caban Babilonia was able to recite the names of all the women in his father’s five marriages. Now both of Lorenzo’s parents were gone, as his father contracted a severe intestinal illness, that resulted in his rapid demise. How long Jose Antonio’s condition lasted went unmentioned in his death certificate. Such details are included in more recent certificates, after 1935.
Wives, children and memory
Jose Antonio Caban Nieves lived long enough to be a 70 year old man who had 16 children, most of whom survived to adulthood. His marriage with Pascasia Babilonia, was likely the longest of all. Remarkably, his son Lorenzo Caban Babilonia (1866-1946) listed the names of the children from each marriage. This also reflects an oral practice of transmitting names and committing them (successfully) to memory, so Lorenzo’s feat was part of learning one’s own family history. We know it’s oral, because at the end of the document, is stated “..firma el Comisonado y los testigos por el declarante no saber firmar, le hace a su ruego..” the Commissioner and witnesses signed on his behalf, because the informant does not know how to write. His father left a will, so there’s additional documentation in the Protocolos Notariales at the Archivo General de Puerto Rico. As it turns out, NONE of the additional 14 people linked to Jose were indexed in FamilySearch— another reason why it’s worth checking the original document.
Parents: Marcelo Caban & Ynes Nieves
First Marriage: Pascasia Babilonia [Quinones]
10 children, only 8 mentioned: Lorenzo, Juana, Bibiana, Calista, Ricarda, Anastasio, Juan y Segundino Caban Babilonia.
Fourth Marriage: Evangelista Ortiz [Perez] No children
Fifth Marriage: Sinforosa Soto [Hernandez]
2 children: Luis y Marian Caban Soto
What this also tells us is that childbearing proved deadly for some partners. With so many little ones, a widower’s impulse to find another wife was imperative. Here potential mates seem to be in the area of Barrio Naranjo, where farms and plantations of relatives and associates were nearby. Most people were born at home, and infant mortality was high. These births were not for the most part, attended by doctors but comadronas or midwives, used their knowledge to bring the next generation into the world. By the 1930s, comadronas (midwives) had formal training, although the knowledge of delivering babies was known among women long before. The difference was a decline in the number of mothers lost to infeccion puerperal – puerperal fever.
For his first marriage to Petronila Pascasia Babilonia Quinones (1846-bef 1886), my research revealed there was at least one additional child. Petronila, as she mostly appears in documents, was the daughter of Francisco Babilonia Acevedo & Maria Bibiana Quinones Vives, owners of Sitio de la Ranchera during the time of her birth.
Multiple connections emerge from these marriages and children. His siblings also tended to have large families, without additional marriages. HIs older sister, Evangelista Caban Nieves (1818-1916), who married Jose Soto (ca 1813-1906) and had 15 children with him. His brothers Marcelino (1833-1914) and Manuel de Jesus Caban Nieves (1846-1886) married two sisters, the daughters of d. Antonio Perez Gerena and da. Manuela Babilonia Lorenzo de Acevedo. Marcelino married Cirila Isidra Babilonia Perez ( 1834-1911) with whom he had 11 children. Manuel de Jesus married Damiana Babilonia Perez (ca 1835-1888) they had 6 known children.
If you’re related to them, you’re related to me via Manuela Babilonia Acevedo, my GGG aunt and her parents. There are probably additional links via the Caban and the Nieves lines, as well, however that connection remains to be determined, partially caught in gap of missing records for first decade of the early nineteenth century. Going beyond the transcriptions in search results can definitely offer a researcher advantages.
“Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJD-F8D7 : 17 July 2017), Pascasia Babilonia in entry for José Antonio Caban Y Nieves, 27 Jan 1904; citing Moca, Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).
Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, “Don Miguel Babilonia (1743-1823) and his Descendants: From Mallorca, Spain to Moca, Puerto Rico.” Hereditas, 16:1, 2015, 6-47; 35-36. https://bit.ly/2Y31yiT
Recently, my cousin Maara asked me to explore her great grandmother’s line, Maria Monserrate Malave Ayala, and that of her first cousin, Maria Angela Malave Vazquez and her husband, based in Barrio Rosario, San German. Among them is an African ancestor, Juan Tomas Gandulla, who lived nearly 90 years and built a foundation for his family. My hope is that further information will come to light concerning his African origins whether through documents, or via the DNA of his descendants- please feel free to reach out.
Most of Tomas Gandulla’s life took place within the boundaries of the municipality of San German, in the southwest of Puerto Rico.
The Landscape of San German
In the nineteenth-early twentieth century, some Gandulla families lived in San German; that of Juan Tomas Gandulla lived in Barrio Rosario Penon, on a peak north of the Pueblo close to the southern wards. Thanks to its elevation, coffee was the crop that dominated the plantations in the area of the time.
Separated by two peaks, and further defined by rivers, both the church and the municipality attempted to provide a separate set of services to those in Rosario Penon, in order to bridge the distance.
This 1888 map from the Archivo Digital Nacional de Puerto Rico, created by the Spanish military, illustrates the difficulties of traveling between the barrios of El Rosario on the left and Pueblo de San German on the right. The distance from the town center meant additional services needed to be provided. For convenience, i rotated the map’s orientation almost 90 degrees (E-W than N-S) to make it easier to read. One can note the roads and rivers that cross its areas, and Rosario Bajo on the northwest corner of San German.
Unlike the previous map of San German’s wards, this military map provides a sense of the distances involved and the difficulties of getting through the region quickly before the arrival of the automobile decades later. In this sense the map is also political, given its creation in a period after the Grito de Lares and the Spanish American War, a promise of how far government intervention can reach after the repression ofEl Componte. The costs were high, and my cousin Teresa Vega has written about the death of her grandfather by lynching during the 1880s.
The ward is adjacent to Mayaguez’s barrios of Limón and Montoso, both areas where descendants of collateral family eventually lived. Below, the Google satellite map of the ward gives an idea of the hills that cross through the landscape
As the local population needed a place to worship, the church of Nuestra Señora del Rosario was established along with a Chapel near the center of the ward, with services scheduled to a designated priest’s travel there.. After 1885, once the Registro Civil began, the municipal administration used designated persons to bring the information for vital records from barrio El Rosario to barrio Pueblo to the south of San German.
Tomas Gandulla (1809-1887), natural de Africa
“Tomas Liberto de Gandulla, natural de Africa, de ochenta anos de edad, agricultor, domiciliado en dicho Barrio, falleció a las tres de la manana, del día de ayer en su domicilio a consecuencia de “vejez”.”
Juan Tomas or more frequently, Tomas Gandulla, was born in Africa about 1809, taken in slavery and brought to Puerto Rico sometime in the first few decades of the nineteenth century. His status as a freedman was writ large on the title of his death certificate as “Tomas Liberto de Gandulla” on the upper left of the document.
Note that the Secretario’s name 4 lines above is Don Juan Antonio Gandulla, which may account for why Tomas’ name appears as Liberto de Gandulla. His surname points to a Gandulla owner sometime before the 1870s.
His son Basilio Antonio Gandulla served as the informant. Now married, Basilio was a farmer living in Barrio Rosario, and stated his father’s parentage and situation: “Ignorando sus padres. Que no otorgo una memoria extrajudicial, a los mismo declaro manifestando no saber firmar.” “Parents unknown. Declared that he did not execute a will, and that he did not know how to sign his name.” Regardless of this status, it did not stop Tomas Gandulla from being involved with farming on his own account and having a family.  Neither Tomas, his sons or his first wife appear in the Registro de Esclavos de 1872, so that any record of their freedom predates these forms. An additional search of parish records may yield such information as the Tomas Gandulla’s age at baptism and perhaps additional details regarding his origin. As a farmer or laborer before 1887, he may have owned or rented his land, so there may be deeds or contracts mentioning him in municipal records or within the series of notarial documents at the Archivo General de Puerto Rico.
Maria Josefa Rivera: first wife
“During the nineteenth century, the genealogy of people of color often comprises a lineage from single mothers, free and unfree.”
Tomas Gandulla was married twice, first to Maria Josefa Rivera and then to Maria Angela Malave Vazquez. With Maria Josefa, he had two sons, Basilio Antonio Gandulla Rivera (b. 1853), who married Mercedes Velez Candelario and Jose Cecilio Gandulla Rivera (b. 1854) who married Juana Maria Candelaria. Both couples had large families, Basilio and Mercedes had at least 7 children, while his brother Jose Cecilio with his wife Juana Maria Candelaria had some 10 children between the 1870s-1900s. Although Tomas and Maria Josefa did not live to see their 17 grandchildren, most of them survived to adulthood.
So far, no additional information on Maria Josefa Rivera was found; she was probably born in the 1830s. Given the mention of ‘Liberto‘ on one of Basilio Gandulla Rivera’s documents, indicates he was born into slavery, which means that at birth according to law, his status followed that of his mother, Maria Josefa Rivera. She too was enslaved. Yet both sons and their families are listed as ‘Mu’ (Mulato) in the 1910 census. She could be of African or Afro-Indigenous or of other admixture descent, born on the island or brought there for sale. Perhaps parish documents hold some clues, if not answers.
Maria Angela Malave Vazquez: 2nd wife, May-December marriage
Maria Angela Malave Vazquez (bca 1862) became Tomas Gandulla’s partner sometime mid-decade in Barrio Rosario Bajo and likely, lived in Barrio Rosario Penon, San German in the early 1880s. This was a December-May relationship, as Tomas was 40 years older than Maria Angela. Given that this marriage took place sometime in the 1880s, opens the possibility of yet another wife, given that Tomas’ previous marriage was two decades earlier. Tomas Gandulla and Maria Angela Malave had two children, Juan Tomas Gandulla Malave (b. 1887) and Maria Monserrate Gandulla Malave (b. 1889) who lived to age 44 and died of tuberculosis in August 1933. She was married to Juan Alicea.
Maria Angela Malave died of Cloro-anemia, a form of iron deficiency anemia in 1902 at the age of 40, some three years after the death of her husband Tomas Gandulla in 1889.
La Mancha del Platano: regard & disregard
Questions remain about the relationship between Tomas Gandulla and Maria Josefa Rivera, how they met and what their lives were like building a family during a time of great transition for POC in Puerto Rico. Despite their freedom, traces of resistant attitudes to emancipation can be found within documents.
The birth certificate for Tomas and Josefa’s granddaughter Maria del Carmen Gandulla Velez contains small details that may reflect the microaggressions endured in daily life by the Gandullas because of their ancestry and class. Does even the documentation bear this kind of disregard? Torn and water stained pages full of insect holes pit the tropical environment against paper, weighted by records for a diverse rural population. Advancing the frames of the microfilm shows that the form beneath this page was not filmed, and the start of the document is covered by the stitched slip, “Nacimientos de 1890, Leg. 31 Exp. 81e” from the Archivo Municipal de San German. it is still remarkable that it survived all this time.
For Basilio and Mercedes’ daughter, Maria del Carmen Gandulla Velez, their child’s name may simply appear as Carmen on the left hand margin, despite her full name appearing in the document, a level of care more often taken with people considered blancos of higher status. In his post for the municipality of San German, Juan Antonio Gandulla— “D. Juan A. Gandulla, Secretario”, was tied to the family who once owned Basilio’s father, and insured that there was no mistake between their lines, so that some social divisions continued. Yet additional documentation may reveal the complexity of relationships and networks that sustained families in Barrio Penon and beyond.
The statement that D. JA Gandulla, recording the birth wrote near the bottom, highlighted in a detail from the birth certificate below was: “Que es prieta por linea paterna de Tomas Liberto de Gandulla y Ma. Jose Rivera.“ “She is black via the paternal line of Tomas Gandulla’s Freedman and Maria Jose Rivera” As secretary, D. Juan A. Gandulla made sure to record the girl’s paternal lineage as black. Yet this identity was far more flexible than the secretary could have imagined, for in the coming decades, the racial identity of the Gandulla grandchildren is recorded as white.
Maria del Carmen Gandulla Candelario
Tomas Gandulla’s son,, Jose Cecilio Gandulla Rivera and his wife Juana Ramona Candelario also had a daughter, Maria del Carmen Gandulla Candelario, born in February 1890. In this record, Jose Cecilio appears as Jose Cecilio Liberto de Gandulla, and he reported both the birth and the death of his daughter, who only lived for one day.
Again the same Secretario, Juan A. Gandulla inscribed the information for the municipal series Nacimientos de Barrio Rosario de Penon that year. As Jose Cecilio Gandulla and Juana Ramona Candelario were not yet married, the secretary notes the details of their single status. During the nineteenth century, the genealogy of people of color often comprises a lineage from single mothers, free and unfree:
..comparecio Jose Cecilio Liberto de Gandulla, natural de este poblado, mayor de edad, soltero, labrador y vecino de Barrio Ros.o de Penon de S. German, presentando con objeto como padre ilegitimo declaro que se inscriba que era hija natural de Juana Ramona Candelario, natural de San German de 22 anos de edad, soltera, domestica y avecinada en dicho barrio. Que era nieta por linea materna de Ma de la Cruz, natural de San German ya difunta. y a dicha niña ha puesto el nombre de Ma del Carmen…
So, despite Juan Cecilio’s accounting for his identity as father of Maria del Carmen in person, her surname is listed as Candelario, not Gandulla. By 1909 the law was changed to include details concerning paternity, and many women took advantage of this opportunity to amend the birth records to identify the father of a child born out of wedlock. Still, in other municipalities, a father’s willingness to identify his paternity could be followed by the use of his surname for births out of wedlock.
These details suggests that Maria Josefa/Jose Rivera married her husband while they were both enslaved, because their son, Jose Cecilio Gandulla Rivera appears as ‘Liberto’ — freedman— in the 1890 record for their granddaughter, Maria del Carmen Candelario. As this happens in 1890, not 1870, why was it necessary to continue mentioning the status? Was there a Jose Cecilio Gandulla blanco? or was it simply pulling rank in the rural society of San German?
While no additional information has turned up on his first marriage to Maria Rivera, it is possible that despite enslavement, they married and had a family before 1873-1876. Maria Rivera was alive at least until 1854, when her second son, Jose Cecilio was born.
In the 1910 census, both Jose Cecilio and his brother Basilio Gandulla’s families were working on a coffee plantation, in Barrio Rosario Penon, on the “Camino de San German a Rosario, sendero del Penon, Rio Abajo” (Road from San German to Rosario, path of Penon, Lower River). Their sons are listed as laborers. Jose Cecilio Gandulla’s death certificate of 1926 lists his occupation as “Agricultor— finca de su padre”, which tells us he worked his father’s farm as a farmer, and likely inherited the farm. Over the course of his lifetime across various census records makes visible the change in economies a decade after the Spanish American War.
By 1930, only Basilio Antonio Gandulla remained, and labor there was now devoted to a different crop, sugar.
During the mid-nineteenth century, the area of San German had the major plantation crops of coffee, sugar along with minor crops that fed the population. Without additional documentation, it is difficult to say what other crops the Gandulla grew besides coffee, or what kinds of situations and arrangements they navigated. By the early twentieth century, social conditions and status changed, and these branches of the Gandulla family continued to grow.
Whether family members worked in the fields, or in the home that served as its administrative center, or labored as service people within the town, the cycles of sowing, tending and harvesting, overlaid by the Catholic calendar structured their lives . As the details across documents show, family histories were determined by shifting conditions of freedom, enslavement and class. In 1910, six grandsons of Tomas Gandulla worked as farm laborers, four granddaughters as domestics, a generation born on the cusp of emancipation.
Writing Juan Tomas Gandulla back into history was part of a larger research project for Maara Vazquez., “Finding Maria Monserrate Malave.” March 2018.
A great place to begin understanding what’s at stake with writing the Gandulla back into history is Milagros Denis, review article, “The Problem of Slavery in the Puerto Rican Societ: , Reseña de “Sugar, Slavery, and Freedom in Nineteenth Century Puerto Rico” de Luis Figueroa, “La esclavitud menor: la esclavitud en los municipios del interior de Puerto Rico en el siglo XIX” de Mariano Negrón Portillo and Raúl Mayo Santana y “Slave Revolts in Puerto Rico” de Guillermo Baralt. Centro Journal [en linea] 2009, XXI (Sin mes) : [Fecha de consulta: 2 de abril de 2019] Disponible en:<http://www.redalyc.org/articulo.oa?id=37721248012> ISSN 1538-6279
“Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJ7-VWTG : 17 July 2017), Juan Tomás Gandulla in entry for Juan Tomás Gandulla, 20 Dec 1887; citing San Germán, Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).
“Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QV1Y-RP5L : 17 July 2017), José Cecilio Liberto Gandulla in entry for María del Carmen Candelario, ; citing San Germán, Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).
“Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJZ-PMJ6 : 17 July 2017), Maria del Rosario Varquez Y Acosta in entry for Maria Malavé Y Varquez, 19 May 1902; citing San Germán, Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).
“Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJ7-V8M3 : 17 July 2017), María Malavé in entry for María Monserrate Gandulla Y Malavé, 19 Jan 1889; citing San Germán, Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).
“Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJX-82XH : 16 July 2017), Jose Cecilio Gandulla Rivera, 25 Nov 1926; citing San Germán, Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).
If you’re doing Latinx genealogy tied to the Spanish empire, you’ll eventually hit a version of the Registro Civil, the Civil Register for births, deaths and marriages that keep track of the population. Depending on the country, these volumes of vital records begin in different years, and are incredible sources of information… depending on how well the person reporting the death knew the family.
Once you become more familiar with these volumes, you’ll notice shifts in the formatting as it goes from completely handwritten (for better or for worse) to progressively printed forms for entry. The forms evolve as the legal system evolves, with different requirements specified and vetted over time. Ok so stay with me– while this is an example from Puerto Rico, there’s a bigger lesson about details here for you to think about.
Variations, Forms, Changes…
Recently, someone asked me about an ancestor tied to the Muniz line, and if you do genealogy, you know one person is never enough. So here’s an example of two 1917 death certificates, with significant differences in the information given by the Declarante (Informant). It’s a great example of the variations in registering information on life passages.
On the left, is the certificate for Petronila Aviles Gonzalez ( -1917), and on the right, Faustino Muniz Mendez (1877-1917). For Petronila, the informant is the child of the deceased. Basically her son, Basilio doesn’t know the names of his grandparents (pink arrows). For Faustino, the informant is a sibling of the deceased. His brother Casimiro knows the wife, her age, the names of their seven children and… and this is a big one, the names of his paternal and maternal grandparents.
In Petronila’s certificate, her son, Basilio Soto Aviles, is the informant, and his relationship comes later in the document. “Los abuelos paternos y maternos no lo conoce el declarante segun informa.” Translation: “As the informant states he doesn’t know the names of his paternal and maternal grandparents”
On the right, in Faustino Muniz Mendez’ certificate, his informant is his brother Casimiro Muniz. Casimiro is able to name Faustino’s wife, his seven children, his parents, his mother’s parents and his father’s parents. There are 16 people listed on his death certificate, and only 3 are listed in the transcription on FamilySearch. Good luck finding it by search- Muñiz is spelled Muñez.
In case you can’t read the image for Faustino’s certificate above, the red arrows point to significant information:
1. Casimiro Muniz mayor de edad, casado, de profesion labrador natural de Moca, PR y avecinado en el barrio de Cuchillas de Moca, PR…
2. Que era casado con Maria Hernandez, natural de Moca, blanca, de treinticinco anos de edad de cuyo matrimonio tuvieron siete hijos, seis que viven Amador, Martina Muniz y Hernandez, Toribio, Lauro, Telesforo, Francisco, Eulogio, los que residen en el barrio Cuchillas y este llamado Pablo difunto.
3. Que era hijo legitimo de Eusebio Muniz y Paula Mendez, hoy difuntos
4. Abuelos Paternos: Manuel Muniz y Felipa Perez, naturales de Moca blancos y hoy difuntos
Abuelos Maternos: Juan Mendez y Maria Perez, naturales de Moca, hoy difuntos
So we know how old his wife was, that they had some 7 children, one no longer living, and where his grandparents on both sides were from.
It pays to go beyond the transcriptions on FamilySearch and Ancestry. That way you can avoid situations like having a parvulo (infant) listed in your tree as your great grandmother because you didn’t take the time to read the original document. Thanks to Casimiro’s statement, we have three generations on one document, and the information brings us closer to the early 1800s. Don’t take the notations for race literally, use it as a prompt to learn more about how people are categorized by official services.
notice patterns in family names
find different barrios (wards) that the family lived in
determine an end date for grandparents based on mention of whether they are alive or have passed away
another point of origin for your family, either on a local level or internationally
you may also find unexpected details such as additional marriages or living arrangements, recognized or unrecognized children
Most of this information is not transcribed on Ancestry or FamilySearch.
Not every certificate from the Registro Civil has this range of information, it varies by year, with some decades offering up more data than others.
Next for my Geneabuds…
Feel free to watch the upcoming episode #72 of Black ProGen LIVE with hosts Nicka Smith & True A. Lewis— coming up on Tuesday 13 November 2018: Life After Death: Getting More With Death Records – click here to watch liveon YouTube. Tune in & discover the leads you can gather from obtaining, reviewing and distilling death records. I’ll be on the panel!
In December 1842, after much planning, Juan de la Rosa finally decided to do something about his situation. He took an old hat, the clothes on his back, and left the plantation of dona Andrea Gonzalez de la Cruz in the rural Barrio of Capa in Moca. This was maroon resistance, and the news of Juan de la Rosa stealing himself is one of the few advertisement for a runaway slave out of Moca, Puerto Rico in an official government newspaper. In this blog post I pull together a range of maps and documents, to reconstruct a glimpse of one enslaved ancestors life in 1842. Much of what I explore here are covers – those of landscape and of clothing,
El 19 del mes proximo pasado desaprecio del territorio de la Moca un esclavo nombrado Juan de la Rosa, de la propiedad de Dona Andrea Gonzalez, cuyas senales son las siguientes: estatura baja, formado de cuerpo, color mulato claro, ojos tristes, nariz chata y corta, pelo pasa, habla un poco fanoso, natural de esta isla, come de treinta anos de edad; llevan pantalones de coleta blanca, camisa de aliado y sombrero de empleita muy viejo —3”
On the 19th of last month, fugitive from the territory of Moca is a slave named Juan de la Rosa, property of Dona Andrea Gonzalez, whose details are the following: low height, developed body, clear mulato color, sad eyes, nose flat and short, tightly curled hair, has somewhat nasal speech, born on this island, about 30 years of age; is wearing pants of white linen, matching shirt and a very old woven hat. —3
The runaway slave advertisement from Moca, Puerto Rico in issues of La Gaceta de Puerto Rico, are few in number. At the moment I’ve located only one other advertisement from the 1830s. The three that appears at the end of the advertisement for Juan de la Rosa is an instruction to the printer for how many times the ad was run- 3 editions, with 3 issues weekly. It’s a question how much the ads cost to be placed, and the much larger question is the outcome. The specific dates spanned the weeks of holiday at the end of the year; the last week of December, 24, 27, 29, 31; the first week of January 3, 5 & 7, Jan 17, 1843.
While in Puerto Rico this kind of notice is not as copious as the numbers of runaway advertisements seen in some stateside publications, the Gaceta’s ‘Anuncios’ (announcements) column carried similar details regarding human and non-human property, so that notices posted by various slaveowners about runaway slaves appear along those of lost horses and livestock. Yet, what skill sets did Juan de la Rosa have? Was he a farm laborer or a carpenter? Was it that he was the bulk of the labor on the Gonzalez plantation? Apart from reclaiming scarce labor, what drove the slaveowner to place a notice?
This entry contrasts with the next runaway ad that appears below it, which is for an African woman named Victoriana who fled with two other men, Manuel and Antonio. Considerable time is spent describing her country marks- her ritual scars, along with the scars of abuse that mark her face and abdomen, filed teeth, dark skin, down to her small hands and feet. Victoriana managed to make it from a rural plantation in Naguabo to the capital of San Juan, where she was apprehended and jailed. The Governor and Captain then ask that the owner show up in three months, otherwise she will be sold and the funds used to benefit the administration.
That tight circle of property and sale also circumvent issues that today can be understood as the suppression of self determination through force exerted by agents of the state, the church and the slaveowners. For the most part, individuals and families who embodied the authority of one, two or all three institutions made their legal decisions in support of profit. Some freed people purchased their family members freedom, through the process of coartación, paying their owners full value in exchange for freedom. (For examples, see Gaining Freedom: gleaning narratives from Caja 1444, Moca, Puerto Rico, 1848-1854)
Who was Juan de la Rosa?
As is often the case with working with enslaved ancestors, there is more to be gleaned about the person who held Juan de la Rosa in bondage, than Juan de la Rosa himself. Yet there are some key details to consider: he was born about 1812 in Puerto Rico, and likely in Moca. Juan de la Rosa was short, and had a distinctive, nasal way of speaking. His skin was not mottled, but a clear, light brown color that spoke to admixture, with no distinguishing scars or problems mentioned. Given his age in a previous record and identity as mulatto, there remains a possibility that he was related to the Gonzalez or the Morales families. In terms of racial categories, consider that the terms used to identify Indigenous ancestry were reduced to colors, with high percentages of AmerIndian mtDNA haplogroups today, it’s possible that this is also part of Juan de la Rosa’s blended ancestry.
Hair texture was a detail noted in documents, a barometer of sorts for the potential to pass or escape notice. Like many people of African descent, Juan’s hair was tightly curled. The term pasa comes from the Spanish word for raisins or currants, not pasa as in the verb pasar, that means to pass or go. A hat would help buy time and delay being identified by authorities, however on some plantations about this time, enslaved workers were given red hats, visible from a distance.
Recently, a series of articles on-line discussed the use of braiding cornrows in various patterns to communicate imminent departures to a literal representation of a pathway out.  One wonders what modes of communication supported Juan de la Rosa’s escape from slavery in a rural area.
Petit Marronage = Diasporic Marronage
Put it down to timing. Juan de la Rosa likely received an allotment of clothes, and, as by December the harvest was over, he decided to make his escape as the season of celebration just got underway. The dry season had begun, rain was less than in November and after December, rainfall would be low for the next two months. By traveling during the long religious holiday that extends from early December to early January, runaways took advantage of long nights, gatherings and celebrations where they might blend into a crowd, gain resources and information. Juan de la Rosa left under a full moon that began two nights earlier on 17 December, affording him light to make his way. 
There is no mention of shoes in Maria Andrea’s notice; he like many, went barefoot. What is clear is that Juan de la Rosa got to the point where he valued his life enough to risk it, leaving everything to get his freedom through an act of petit marronage. This act, as historian Jorge L Chinea noted, “hit the slaveowners where it hurt most: in the pocket… paralyzing or shutting down production and depriving owners of their labor force.” The maroons became thorns and pricks in the colonial regime’s side. As Chinea points out this networked movement of those who freed themselves, this resistance, had a larger social impact that disseminated culture and influenced colonial and intercolonial affairs, which he terms, ‘diasporic marronage’. Juan de la Rosa was part of a larger group of people who decided on freedom by any means necessary.
Finding Juan de la Rosa in other documentation
He is likely the same as Juan age 10 listed in Moca’s 1826 Relación de Esclavos. As mentioned before, this was an island-wide inventory of the humans held in bondage. It was done in accordance with the recent passage of the 1826 Reglamientos, a new slave code issued by the Spanish government, a the guidelines that outlined the rights of owners and the enslaved. Fortunately the 1826 Relación is not a numeric list, and has details such as name and age. Listed with Juan are Maria Antonia age 6 and Isabel age 4, close enough in age to potentially be siblings-(starred in the chart below). 
As small slave owners formally and informally sold enslaved people to family and neighbors, enslaved families could potentially live nearby. Another chart, Tabla XI. Parejas de esclavos en Moca para el siglo XIX. by Nieves Mendez, based on baptism and marriage parish volumes between 1786-1813. Among the 15 slaveowners is Maria Morales, who held in bondage the couple Felipe and Juana and their two children, Maria Antonia and Juan de la Rosa towards the start of the nineteenth century [6 ]
Juan de la Rosa’s parents, Felipe and Juana were likely married, and their children baptized in keeping with earlier versions of the Reglamentos. As owners of eight enslaved people, Maria Morales and Manuel Gonzalez were among the larger slave owners in Moca.  In 1782, they lived in Ojo de Agua, an area in the south of Aceitunas, today known as Ojo de Valencia, and the property was still there into the 1830s. They are likely descendants of earlier military families such as the Morales del Rio and related lines that extend to older settlements such as Arecibo. Maria Morales (bca 1755) was married to Manuel Gonzalez (bca 1770), and their 5 children were: Andrea, Manuel, Ynes, Rosa ‘Rosalia’ and Juana Gonzalez Morales.
Enslaved persons owned by Gonzalez & Morales Slaveowners, 1775-1824
Notes for this Table 1775-1824: line entries record information from each table and some persons appear more than once. Relationships between Gonzalez remain to be clarified.
Information from Tables relating to enslavement, Antonio Nieves Mendez, Historia de un pueblo: Moca 1772 al 2000. lulu.com, (2008)
Tabla VI – Esclavos y esclavistas de Moca, 1775-1785. 347.
Tabla VII – Esclavos y esclavistas de Moca, 1800-1810. 361.
Tabla VIII – Esclavos y esclavistas de Moca, 1810-1824, 361-364
Tabla X -Identificacion de matrimonios de esclavos registrados por la Iglesia de Moca 1792-1821. 365
Tabla XI – Parejas de esclavos en Moca en siglo XIX. 365.
Tabla XI data based on parish books of Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Monserrate, Moca:
L2 1786-1813 Mat
L3 1813-1824 Mat
L5 1800-1810 Baut
L6 1811-1813 Baut
Information provides the identity of Juan de la Rosa’s family: his parents Felipe and Juana, and sibling Maria Antonia, at Ojo de Agua in Aceituna before 1813. By 1826, Juan, Maria Antonia and Isabel (with ages that vary by 3 years) are listed as slaves of Andrea Gonzalez, who has the estancia Guamaes in Capa. By December 1842, Juan de la Rosa departs. The transfer of enslaved persons occurred by inheritance or purchase, perhaps prompted by the death of Maria Morales, Maria Andrea’s mother. The children’s parents, probably born in the 1770s, may have died or were sold by this time. There is likely more documentation in the notarial documents of the Archivo General de Puerto Rico
Those not included in the charts
In January 1810, Manuel Gonzalez gave his mulata servant Dolores, 25 years old, her liberty after she paid 200 silver pesos for her freedom. In October 1811, Manuel Gonzalez traveled to Aguadilla to purchase from Pedro Ferrer, the enslaved servant Felix, 25 years old and born on Puerto Rico. Two weeks later, he purchased Geronima de la [roto] a servant 29 years old who Antonio Hernandez of Cabo Rojo had inherited from his mother. These transactions involve either Manuel Gonzalez, husband of Maria Morales or their son, Manuel Gonzalez Morales, who married Rosa Hernandez, and then his second marriage was to a —- Vazquez Vega. Each of the Gonzalez Morales children likely benefitted from the continued accumulation of property both human and material over time. 
Historian & genealogist David Stark found that “more than half of these marriages in Caguas, San German and Yauco involved slave shows owners were linked by ties of the first degree, that is, the owners were either siblings, a parent and child and son or daughter in law.”  This enabled the informal lending of enslaved family members from one plantation to another, and created an existence where they lived “within two family cycles: their own and that of the masters.”
By 1826 there are 3 Manuel Gonzalez in the 1826 Relacion de esclavos– either the same or related persons owning property in two different barrios, Capa and Aceituna. By 1826, those enslaved ancestors that appeared in the parish records— Juana, Maria Vicente, Juana Simona, Marcelo, Maria Victoria, Santiago, Ana Maria Rafael — do not appear, either due to sale or death. Felipe may appear as widowed in later documentation. In 1826, the Felipe owned by Manuel Gonzalez is some two decades too young to be the father of children with Juana (who does not appear in the census) regardless, by 1826, they are owned by Andrea Gonzalez. Just as in Parnaiba, Brazil, most slaves who married off their masters estates had partners among their extended family. This in turn, increases the likelihood that owners were related.
Mapping out information about enslaved ancestors across documentation provides suggestions for exploring specific relationships, establish timing and location to build out nodes of data that can help extend branches of family trees. This also supplies additional insight into female slave ownership in Puerto Rico.
The 1826 Reglamentos
In 1826, Governor don Miguel de Torre issued a long document intended to regulate the treatment of the enslaved. The passage of the Reglamento sobre la education, trato y ocupaciones que deben dar a sus escalos los duenos y mayordomos en esta Isla, 12 agosto 1826  addressed common complaints, issues and provided a detailed standard for treatment by slave owners in its sixteen chapters. More importantly for genealogists and family historians, this law also culminated in an island-wide census that enumerated and centralized information on slaves in Puerto Rico.
The 1826 census of the enslaved also intended to account for the porous population of African and Native descended people who fled from slavery to form free communities. It also helped the Spanish government get a handle on the ‘informal’ slave trade after 1808, the year the British declared an official end to the traffic. Spain’s subjects in the Caribbean continued to purchase people up until the official end of slavery, 1873 in Puerto Rico and 1886 in Cuba. 
Capitulo V of the Reglamento specifically speaks to the collection and storage under lock and key of farming tools at the start and end of each day, lest the tools be taken up in an insurrection. [12 ] In this case, fears about the power of enslaved labor collided with a growing awareness that the same force could be channeled against the powers that be. The struggle for abolition was advanced by multiple forms of resistance, of which running away was one. Movement was controlled, visits to other plantations limited, trade with another enslaved person on plantations were prohibited in Capitulo VI, and diversions, separated by gender within prescribed limits were outlined in Capitulo VII. The facets of the law reveal white fears about resistance and violence, just as it prescribed and justified the use of violence as a cultural and social resource against the enslaved.
Capitulo XIII: Obligaciones de los esclavos y penas correccionales outlines the obligations a the enslaved had toward a master and lists the punishments by the owner or his majordomo. Given the required ‘obedience and respect’ leaves questions as to how perception and interpretation of responses led to any number of punishments: prison, shackles, chain, mallet,
or stocks, or by whipping, limited to 25 strokes. 
This pattern of using violence ties back to elimination as a feature of the process of settler colonialism, where murder, multiple diasporas and displacement of populations pushes against the desire and right to self determination. What this document does not specifically address is the fallout of this system— trauma, the constant threat of death, persecution, hunger, illness, assault and rape that are blind spots in earlier Puerto Rican historiography. By delving into multiple sources one can work against the erasure and denial of elements of a system with structures that remain in the present for POC. Revisiting these contexts is key for gleaning details that can connect an investigation or a narrative further.
As historian Milagros Denis wrote: “In Puerto Rico the slave population revolted. They caused fear and chaos. The white elite were afraid of blacks. By rebelling, the slaves made the unthinkable and the unexpected. They broke up the racial and class hierarchies embedded in the island’s colonial system.”  This was despite Articulo 2ndo, Capitulo XI, which awards liberty to any slave who discovers and reports any conspiracy either by other slaves or free people that aimed to disturb the pubic order, or kill the owner, his wife, son or father of the owner. Freedom was to be paid by the body of hacendados, and an additional reward of 500 pesos given with a public notice. If the denouncers were many, the money could be subdivided, but individuals would have to pay for their own freedom. 
Denis’ observations in her review essay on the repercussions of resistance on racial and class hierarchies connects to how history was written— mostly disconnected from any effort to offer critiques that could effect real change. Historian Ileana M. Rodriguez-Silva speaks to the role of gratitude and deference in post-abolitionist thought of the 1870s, a distortion that served to “rearticulat[e] white superiority and patriarchal authority”.
What “Political practices such as gratitude highlight [are] the liberal features of benevolence and paternalism and undermine efforts to critique the structures of power, especially through critiques of racialized domination. Paradoxically, creole political leaders and intellectuals minimized slavery but felt the need to celebrate abolition, by which they constantly rewrote the history of slavery.”  By the 1940s and 1950s this view accompanied assurances that slavery in Puerto Rico was mild in comparison to Cuba or the American South, a recycling of views from a century before. Colorism mutated over time.
Taken as a whole, the Reglamentos of 1826 was an attempt to address every aspect of keeping persons in bondage, its chapters turning from clothing to health to work day, the restrictions on pregnant women and nursing, the standards are suggestive of the wide range of conditions and violations that led to the creation of this document. It justified the separation of mothers from the care of newborns, in a house or hut with other children cared for by one or two women.  Yet its standards were often expressed as if they were ideal, which some writers, like the pro-slavery apologist Colonel George A Flinter wrote of as a mild form of slavery, with many possible ways to generate income from the enslaved and their agricultural labor. This is the industrialization of the body.
The 1826 inventory of enslaved people listed slave owner, names of the enslaved and their ages. The next inventory, the Registro de esclavos came a half century later, in 1870. Both the 1826 and 1870 Registros are of great benefit for genealogists and family historians as both documents cover every municipality on the island (in one form or another), and more importantly, the inventory is not numeric, and can be cross referenced with other sources.
Still, I’m left with a question- how well did slave owners follow a 16 chapter document that attempts to address all aspects of slavery when literacy was below 20%?
1826 Registro de esclavos, Moca
A transcription of the 1826 Registro de esclavos is in Antonio Nieves Mendez’ Historia de un pueblo: Moca 1772 al 2000. This registro has the names of the enslaved and their ages, but does not include the locations for each slaveowner. Extracted are those enslaved owned by Manuel Gonzalez and Andrea Gonzalez; I added an estimated year of birth for each person.
The organization of the names on the list suggests parental relationships, for example, Maria 30 and Petrona 3; Maria Ramona 30 and Ramona 7 and Dolores 5. Manuel Gonzalez’ name appears three times in the Registro, and it is unclear whether this is one, two or possibly three individuals. Under Maria Andrea Gonzalez are the children Juan, Maria Antonia and Isabel, which corresponds to the information from the parish records above, the children of Felipe and Juana. The fact that only the children appear is likely due to a transfer of their ownership through inheritance from her mother, Maria Morales.
The total number of enslaved people listed in the 1826 census is 684 souls, with a higher number of males the total number of women, 318 to 266.  The 1847 Censo de Riquezas lists the number of enslaved persons in each barrio; for Aceituna, the number was much higher than for Capa. The list shows how several estancias combined resources in the production of coffee, a crop suited for the region. In 1826, this organization and concentration of production was just getting started.
Location, location, location: Fugitive landscapes of NW PR
Two areas figure in this narrative— the south of Aceitunas and within the center of Capa, circled in the image of the barrios below. Over the course of the decades, colonial administrations became more specific in identifying crops, yield and values.
The censo and riquezas became more detailed as did the legal structures of enslavement, which were refined and redefined each time Reglamentos were issued. We can better understand the constraints on the lives caught in these cycles of rights, production and profit, as we trace these ancestors. Familial relationships connect in myriad ways within an economy based in slavery.
In 1847, Andrea Gonzalez owned the estancia Guamaes, in Barrio Capa, where there were 38 estancias and one hacienda, named La Suerte owned by Tomas Roman. Neighboring owners had different uses for areas of land that ranged from mono-crops of sugar, coffee, cotton or tobacco, to the subsistence crops of ‘frutas menores’ or pasture. The need for labor whether free or enslaved, depended on the crop and amount of land. For example, in 1847, Roman owned 4 people and had 20 free peons working some 22 of 133 acres of land. In contrast to Roman, Gonzalez had 3 of 8.5 acres worked by one enslaved person and one peon. Size wasn’t necessarily an indicator of slaveholding— even Gregorio Velazquez with 6 cultivated acres of 130 acres, he only had two peons working his farm. 
The small number of free and enslaved people in Moca helps to delimit the possibilities when identifying a person. Also consider there is only one consistent family unit. As Maria Morales disappears from the subsequent list by 1810, she is most likely Maria Morales born mid-century, married to Manuel Gonzalez, who had five children before 1780.
The Google satellite map above shows that part of the landscape consists of ridges that to the north rise into the Cordillera Central, with the Bosque Estatal de Guajataca (Guajataca Forest) just a few miles north of Capa.
The close up satelite images in these Google Maps shows the ridges that comprise much of where the homes are in Capa today. That bears comparison to the topographic 1889 Military Map, the Itinerario de San Sebastian a Moca.  These hand drawn, hand-inked maps are full of details useful for understanding the topography of the Cordillera and how people navigated these features.
In the full sized screenshot of the map below, the area of Barrio Capa is indicated by a red rectangle just off center, and the road that extends from left to right is today designated Rte. 125. Next, compare the Google Map image with Rte. 125, the road that extends East and West of the red marker, with the rendering of the road some 129 years before in the military map; litte has changed. The first image shows the entire stretch from Moca’s border with Aguadilla on the left, and San Sebastian on the right, as mapped by Spanish colonial military; the image below is the demarcated area that shows Capa in detail.
What’s interesting about both maps, (available on ISSUU.com) are the names attached to features and to property. The names on the 1899 map Itinerario de S. Sebastian a Moca, indicate the names of then property owners in Barrio Capa . On the map are Pedro Lasaye (Lassalle) Donato Lassalle, D. Salazar Escobar, Felipe Soto, C Ramon Molinari, SMJ Vargas, Galin Perez, D. Lorenzo Roman, D. Amador Roman. One consistent surname from the past here is Roman.
Las rutas del Norte
In Benajmin Nistal-Moret’s Cimarones y esclavos prófugos, from which this image of the 1837 map is taken, are notices from 1831 that warns the soldiers stationed along ‘La ruta del Norte’, about escaped slaves. Various Teniente a Guerra of each village received official news & notices from the capital of San Juan or directives from elsewhere along these routes.  The ridges of the Cordillera were considerable features that determined access and the kinds of crops that farms and plantations grew.
How this landscape was seen by some in 1837 is revealed in this map of La Ruta del Norte, Sur y Este. The region was known to be permeated by water, whether sea, creek, river or tropical rainfall, the northern route that connected the municipalities around the island were for the most part, narrow dirt roads that were eventually widened over time. The ridges of the Central Cordillera sweep from east to west, and the military road cuts across it. One function of the map is to suggest the potential reach of the official government, yet, the administration’s reticence to publicize or emphasize loss, the later absence of pertinent documents on organized slave resistance encountered in archives by historians, taken with the sheer density of the forest both then and now, contradicts the ideal of an efficient all powerful colonial military.
On the 1837 map above, Capa, Moca falls within the narrow end of “V” that straddles the NW corner of the island. The port city of Aguadilla is on the West and Isabela on the North, bisected by a river that meets with the town of El Pepino (San Sebastian)- (just off the center of the Visible is the part of the small mountain range, the Cordillera that rises up into Isabela. These three locations were major towns tied to agricultural production, and in Moca, thirteen creeks feed into the Rio Culebrinas, making areas impassable during the rainy season.
If one could reach water, or travel a safe route known to few, there was hope of getting beyond the reach of authorities. Some of the locations that runaways escaped to were the port cities of Mayaguez and Ponce. The changing landscape meant removal of vegetation and forests that served to hide Maroon communities, that likely existed at different locations within the Bosque Estatal that includes karst caves. If there was no direct escape to water, the next strategy getting to a free community and becoming part of it.
The other area that Juan de la Rosa knew from his childhood was Ojo de Agua, in Aceitunas, a barrio to the north between Aguadilla and Isabela. His parents Felipe and Juana, and his sister Maria Antonia, were enslaved by Maria Morales, the wife of Manuel Gonzalez. They appear in Ojo de Agua in 1782, and the plantation continued until its purchase in the 1830s by Juan de las Nieves, and subsequently became Ojo de Valencia, the expansive coffee plantation owned by Francisco Cirilo de Acevedo in 1844. He added another 1200 acres in 1866.
In 1847, 531 enslaved people worked the pasture, livestock, growth and processing of crops in Moca. They likely sewed the clothes, dressed and fed families and owners. The column with the number of salaried peons reflect some kind of ambivalence, with 209 listed and the additional 695 in brackets unexplained in the form. 627 owners, 627 farms and 531 enslaved men, women and children.
Despite the constant reference to small slave ownership in Puerto Rico in comparison to Cuba or other Caribbean islands, just how organized self-stealing was and whether there was a network of Abolitionists dedicated to a version of a Puerto Rican Underground Railroad remains a question.
Clothes, diaspora, trade & survival
The notice for Juan de la Rosa made note of the type and color of garments he wore at the time of his escape. What would make his flight successful was visually blending in a free community, so the opportunity to change garments could mean knowing where to obtain another set of clothes. There is relatively little scholarly work on clothing of the enslaved in the US southern plantations, and even less for Puerto Rico.
According to Article 2, Capitulo III of the Spanish government’s Reglamento sobre la education, trato y ocupaciones que deben dar a sus esclavos los duenos y mayordomos en esta Isla, 12 agosto 1826, owners were to provide three changes of clothes a year, made of a shirt and pants and a hood or hat, a handkerchief and a shirt of jacket of bayeta (baize) a cheap wool fabric, for winter. There were two sets of shirt and pants provided and a third set issued eight months later. 
These stipulations created what costume historian Robert Duplessis called a ‘new regime of clothing’, visual markers of another status that eventually blends among the dress of free workers. Below, a chart from an official report of 1765 demonstrates the striking distinction between the amount spent on clothes between free and enslaved people. There was a just a fraction of the cost ascribed to the latter.
The use of linen and wool may be an indication of British trade, as “linens were yet more dominant in the British colonies than the French, reflecting the considerable gap, in the British colonies in prices between cheap linens and cheap cottons…cheap woolens like bays (baize) were frequently included in the British Caribbean…”.Luis Diaz Soler in Historia de la esclavitud en Puerto Rico (1985) has several details about that cloth used to create garments for enslaved people in the 18th century:
“La tela era de lienzo ordinario importado de Mallorca, de color azul con listas negras. Gran cantidad de ella era adquirida en el negocio de contrabando establecidos con las Antillas inglesas. La usaban indistintamente hombres y mujeres….”
Translation: “The fabric is ordinary linen imported from Mallorca, blue with black flecks. A great quantity of it was acquired via contraband with the British Antilles. It was indistinctly used for both women and men….”] 
Striking is the disparity between what was spent by free people on clothing versus the enslaved as reported by General O’Reilly in his 1765 report on the island. This also lent a scale for government to judge how much smuggling went on then- and continued with an illegal slave trade, paired with official permissions to purchase Africans into the 1840s.
Ships with dry goods under different flags traded across the Caribbean, and it makes sense that part of those goods would be used on plantations, towns and small farms anywhere the enslaved labored. At some point since 1765, the black flecked blue linen used for slave clothing became plain white linen fabric. In the US South in 1860, yards of fabric were issued as an allowance to enslaved workers and supervised and/or fashioned by mistresses and their daughters.
As Madeline Shaw writes: “Some owners issued fabric, expecting the slaves to cut and sew their own clothing; some plantation mistresses cut out or supervised the cutting out of garments from plantation-made or purchased cloth, to be made up by slave seamstresses or by the mistress and her daughters; and sometimes ready-made garments or pre-cut garment pieces were imported from northern manufacturers….Hard agricultural labor in an unforgiving climate is likely to have taken a serious toll on the integrity of a field hand’s clothing. Just as men’s worn out trousers became women’s leggings, other remnants of previous allotments must have been re-used.” 
This 1842 list of import taxes on fabric from Mexico published in the Gaceta de Puerto Rico shows different weights of linen ‘Lienzos’ in two columns. Notice there’s a wide variety of painted and woven fabrics and lace that points to the growth of consumption, new markets for self fashioning. It’s not clear where the fabric used for Juan de la Rosa’s linen coletas were sourced from Mexico, or somewhere in Europe. Given the trade networks in the Caribbean, many kinds of arrangements were possible, with goods arriving in ports on the west side of the island too.
As the century wore on, precut or ready made garments were part of the trade in cloth; in the 1840s, industrial production was beginning but not on the island. The work of transforming fabric into clothing by hand sewing was a means of employment for women in the garment industry. Feminist historian Maria del Carmen Baerga Santini gives an idea of this development in Europe:
“Historically women were concentrated in industries with low grades of mechanization; while the sale of production was smaller, larger was the concentration of female labor… From the start of the industrial system one of the principal sources of female manufacturing labor was work related to dress. At the start of the nineteenth century the expansion of demand for ready made clothes translated into the incorporation of thousands of women in the industrial system of France and England.” 
And yet, whether the cloth was brought by the yard or pre cut, in Puerto Rico there was a need for manufacture given that the only industry that had limited technical development was sugar cane processing, sewing would still be accomplished by hand by groups of women. Enslaved ancestors also gained these skills which contributed to their survival and support after freedom. Sewing and lacemaking were skills transmitted from person to person on estancias and haciendas, and elite women learned needlework as part of their education. . What remains to be learned are specifics on the scale of production for clothing the enslaved in the late eighteenth to early nineteenth century Puerto Rico.
For those who stole themselves, clothing meant opportunity, a chance to regain control over the conditions of their lives, and ultimately keep moving to freedom. What Juan de la Rosa wore that December 1842, the landscapes he remembered, and the unknown outcome of his flight still matter.
This journey through the past of Juan de la Rosa was a challenge presented by a newspaper advertisement tied to the place where my mother was born. What impelled me to search was knowing that regardless of the time or place, people seek their freedom under conditions of oppression. The desire to have self determination was constantly upheld in daily life and, as the example of Haiti showed, was an achievable ideal. The numbers of free people grew as many scraped funds together to purchase themselves from their owners.
Was stealing oneself an effective strategy? Benjamin Nistal Moret notes that of over 700 cases that he studied, there were an additional 800 cases of libertos who ran away between 1873-1876 just as the contracts for free labor to the actual abolition of slavery occurred— and they disappeared without a trace. 
The sale of humans as property and the embodiment of the state, church and slaveowner, that interlocking set of conditions that constituted a social structure designed to support slavery is a dimension overlooked by those who want to relegate the institution of slavery to the past. It is much easier for some to instead substitute a nostalgic past devoid of daily violence.
Refuting perspectives that would reconstitute the past as a tropical ‘Gone with the Wind’, serves to obscure enslavement’s very real legacy in the present— so cast a critical eye on those vacation advertisements. The residues and residual structures are very much still with us (13th Amendment; shackles are now electronic, POC disproportionately impacted). That these issues still reach into the present is why working alongside friends, families and institutions willing to unpack such moments can help to connect and shift the narrative on the past and the stories we tell, the world we share.
Raise your ancestors into visibility!
I highly recommend Guillermo A. Baralt’s esclavos rebeldes: consipriaciones y sublevaciones de esclavos en Puerto Rico (1795-1873). Ediciones Huracan, 1981; published in English Slave Revolts in Puerto Rico, Marcus Weiner Publishers, 2007; Ivonne Acosta Lespier’s amazing “Mujeres esclavas en Mayaguez, 1872” http://www.mayaguezsabeamango.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=763&Itemid=101 brings attention to the attempts at & resistance to dehumanization and the phenomenon of female slave owners. Benjamin Nistal Moret’s Esclavos profugos y cimarrones: Puerto Rico 1770-1870, Editorial UPR (1984) also helped to understand the network of powers that those who undertook ‘diasporic marronage’ sought to evade. Milagros Denis’ long review article is also worth reading & thinking with. These works informed my discussion of the Reglamentos, or slave codes in Puerto Rico.
 “Anuncios.” Gazeta de Puerto-Rico. [volume] ([San Juan, P.R.) 1806-19??, December 29, 1842, Page 624, Image 4 Image provided by University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus, Library System https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/2013201074/1842-12-29/ed-1/seq-4/ #date1=1789&sort=date&date2=1963&words=Andrea+Gonz%C3%A1lez& searchType=basic&sequence=0&index=2&state=Puerto+Rico&rows=20&pr oxtext=andrea+gonzalez&y=11&x=7&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1
 Accounts from Brazil and Columbia testify to the power of hair to relay messages: DeNeen Brown, “Afro-Colombian women braid messages of freedom in hairstyles.” Washington Post, July 8, 2011. “Mapping Out Freedom: Escaped Slaves Used Braids For Direction”. https://hellobeautiful.com/2877570/braids-cornrows-maps-for-slaves/ ; “The Interesting Fact About How Slaves Used Cornrow Hair Braiding To Escape”, 4 Nov 2017
 Jorge L Chinea “Diasporic Marronage: Some Colonial and Intercolonial repercussions of Overland and Waterborne Slave Flight, with Special Reference to the Caribbean Archipelago” Revista Brasileira do Caribe Brasília, Vol. X, no19. Jul-Dec 2009, 259-284; p263; S.v. Maroon resistance and settlement on Danish St. Croix..” Retrieved Apr 06 2018 from https://www.thefreelibrary.com/Maroon+resistance+and+settlement+on+Danish+St.+Croix.-a0280557943
 Antonio Nieves Mendez, Historia de un pueblo: Moca 1772 al 2000. lulu.com, 372
 Nieves Mendez, Historia de un pueblo: Moca 1772 al 2000. 366
 Nieves Mendez Historia de un pueblo: Moca 1772 al 2000. 311
 David Stark, “Discovering the Invisible Puerto Rican Slave Family: Demographic Evidence from the Eighteenth Century” Journal of Family History, 21:4, Oct 1996, 393-418; 403
 Metcalf, quoted in Stark, Discovering the Invisible Puerto Rican Slave Family: Demographic Evidence from the Eighteenth Century”; 403
 Reglamento sobre la education, trato y ocupaciones que deben dar a sus escalos los duenos y mayordomos en esta Isla, 12 agosto 1826
 Documento No. 179. “Reglamento sobre la education, trato y ocupaciones que deben dar a sus escalos los dunes y mayordomos en esta Isla, 12 agosto 1826” El proceso abolicionista en Puerto Rico: Documentos para su estudio, Vol II: Proceso y efectos de la abolición, 1866-1896, 103-112.1978 , 110
 Documento No. 179. “Reglamento sobre la education, trato y ocupaciones que deben dar a sus escalos los dunes y mayordomos en esta Isla, 12 agosto 1826” El proceso abolicionista en Puerto Rico: 106
 Milagros Denis, “Review Essay, The Problem of Slavery in the Puerto Rican Society Reseña de “Sugar, Slavery, and Freedom in Nineteenth Century Puerto Rico” de Luis Figueroa, “La esclavitud menor: la esclavitud en los municipios del interior de Puerto Rico en el siglo XIX” de Mariano Negrón Portillo and Raúl Mayo Santana y “Slave Revolts in Puerto Rico” de Guillermo Baralt. Centro Journal, vol. XXI, núm. 1, 2009, pp. 236-245 http://www.redalyc.org/articulo.oa?id=37721248012
 Documento No. 179. “Reglamento sobre la education, trato y ocupaciones que deben dar a sus escalos los dunes y mayordomos en esta Isla, 12 agosto 1826” El proceso abolicionista en Puerto Rico: 109
 Ileana M. Rodriguez-Silva , “Abolition, Race, and the Politics of Gratitude in Late Nineteenth- Century Puerto Rico” Hispanic American Historical Review 93:4, 621-657
 Capitulo III Art. 3, 4. Documento No. 179. “Reglamento sobre la education, trato y ocupaciones que deben dar a sus escalos los dunes y mayordomos en esta Isla, 12 agosto 1826” El proceso abolicionista en Puerto Rico: 105
 Antonio Nieves Mendez, Historia de un pueblo: Moca 1772 al 2000. 372.
 Nieves Mendez, Historia de un pueblo: Moca 1772 al 2000. 385.
 Gazeta de Puerto-Rico. [volume] ([San Juan, P.R.), 20 Aug. 1842. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/ 2013201074/1842-08-20/ed-1/seq-2/>
 Benjamin Nistal Moret, Cimarones y esclavos prófugos
 Documento No. 179. “Reglamento sobre la education, trato y ocupaciones que deben dar a sus escalos los dunes y mayordomos en esta Isla, 12 agosto 1826” El proceso abolicionista en Puerto Rico:
 Robert S. DuPlessis, « What did Slaves Wear? Textile Regimes in the French Caribbean »,
Monde(s) 2012/1 (N° 1), p. 175-191. https://www.cairn.info/revue-mondes1-2012-1-page-175.htm
 Luis Diaz Soler, Historia de la esclavitud en Puerto Rico. 169
 Madelyn Shaw, Slave Cloth and Clothing Slaves: Craftsmanship, Commerce, and Industry. Journal of Early Souther Decorative Arts. http://www.mesdajournal.org/2012/slave-cloth-clothing-slaves-craftsmanship-commerce-industry/ Also Linda Baumgartner, Clothes for the People–Slave Clothing in Early Virginia. Journal of Early Southern Decorative Arts (NoCar N 6520 .J67), Vol. 14 Issue 2, Nov 1988, p27-70 ; Eulanda A. Sanders, The Politics of Textiles Used in African American Slave Clothing Published in Textiles and Politics: Textile Society of America 13th Biennial Symposium Proceedings, Washington, DC, September 18- September 22, 2012. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1739&context=tsaconf
 Maria del Carmen Baerga Santini, Introduccion, Genero y trabajo: la industria de la aguja en Puerto Rico y el Caribe hispánico. Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, 1993, 6
 Ellen Fernandez- Sacco, Mundillo, identity & tourism: The revival and transformation of handmade lace in Puerto Rico.” Maureen Daly Goggin & Beth Fowkes Tobin, eds. Women and Threads: Gender and the Material Culture of Textiles., Ashgate, 2009, 148-166. https://www.academia.edu/154024/Mundillo_and_Identity_the_revival_and_transformation_of_handmade_lace_in_Puerto_Rico
Oral history, Alex Haley’s Roots and the question of proof
Change takes time. It can feel glacial when looking at the time frame for the development of genealogy for people of color in the US. As Nicka Smith recently reminded us in the video of Ep20b of BlackProGenLIVE on Talks Diversity in Genealogy and Family History, our path is difficult because a fundamental building block is oral history.  As she pointed out, ‘the problem of the color line‘ remains a very real one in genealogy. I’m into understanding that context, and want to take an opportunity to look back at another decade’s work where the push for truth served to reinforce a boundary. The question of proof in genealogy always looms large. For examples of practice, don’t miss the list of blogs at the end of this post.
A quote from a 1983 article that contained a relentless takedown of Alex Haley’s book Roots: The Saga of an American Family, reveals the seams along which professional genealogy developed, some eighty years earlier. This split posits the document against the voice in oral history as the legitimate source of data. Thirty-three years ago, this genealogical work was an endeavor that missed the boat in its insistence on paper as the ultimate proof, and perhaps the location there is significant, as it came out of the deep South.
Facts, Claims and the Logic of Proof
The claim that ‘No ethnic group has a monopoly upon oral tradition or documentation, literacy or illiteracy, mobility or stability' ignores the fact that enslaved people counted for chattel, that various populations were brought to labor in oppressive conditions here, and key is that most people of color were not party to creating documentation on their own behalf reflective of them as equal people with equal rights. This goes well beyond “superimposing racial divisions upon all aspects of life…” and ignores that the struggle for civic recognition reaches back to the founding of the country. The fear expressed then, was that Haley’s book could constitute a ‘…delusion that encourages mediocre scholarship in the nascent field of Afro-American genealogy and relegates black family history to the academic dark ages from which Caucasian genealogy has already emerged…’.
The problem is that this logic of ‘documentary proof as the only valid proof’ is part of the problem of structural racism, inadvertently or deliberately serving ‘to perpetuate social stratifications and outcomes that all too often reflect racial group sorting rather than individual merit and effort.’ To continue to claim this kind of proof as the only proof is an exclusionary exercise, in effect, one that insists on documentation within a context where one side holds the power, and is also one that perpetuates the gap between White Americans and Americans of color.
The following chart shows the interlocking parts of this system:
In essence, what we are witnessing today is a gradual process of desegregation within genealogy practiced in the U.S.
Strategies and Projects: Restoring Visibility & Developing Methodologies
Within the last two decades, genealogists in the field of African American genealogy have developed strategies for working with oral histories and published accounts and have successfully incorporated them within the Genealogical Proof Standard. It follows the growth of historical, sociological and cultural work on various dimensions of the experience and process of enslavement, the development of various communities of color and difference as legitimate fields of inquiry. Now there is a growing awareness of combined efforts that defy simple ethnic or racial classification as with Marronage, those hidden and open maroon communities where people of African, Indigenous and varying admixtures stole themselves to, to gain self-determination. These historic episodes do not fit neatly into traditional genealogy and require new modes of recording, interpreting and disseminating data on the families of these communities.
Given the location, this work has neither a smooth or clear path to acceptance; for instance, one can look at the changes in the narratives offered by Monticello in the 1990s to the 2010s, with the recent Public Summit on Race and the Legacy of Slavery (Sep 2016) and the recent conference (Mar 2018) Interpreting Slavery Also important are the in-place interventions by Joseph McGill of The Slave Dwelling Project, and Michael J Twitty’s rising recognition as a culinary and historical authority with his blog Afroculinaria and his important book The Cooking Gene are gaining wider regard.
The summit, “Memory, Mourning, Mobilization: Legacies of Slavery and Freedom in America” would not have been possible without the oral histories along with the genealogical and DNA data collected by the Getting Word project at Monticello. As a result, descendants now have the opportunity to stay overnight through the Slave Dwelling Project. McGill continues to expand to new sites, to have important conversations as a group participates in a simple, visceral experience of sleeping in slave cabins.
On Episode 315 (Mar 15 2018) of Research at the National Archives and Beyond, Bernice Bennett interviewed genealogist Kenyatta D. Berry, on her work with a consortium of 30 US universities currently researching and dealing with their involvement in slavery. Within their discussion the question of data, access and interpretation by descendants, genealogists and historians is in a process of development. The variety of needs range from establishing a historical narrative to understanding context, creating macro and microhistories that can recombine with documentation to create larger interdisciplinary spaces that can accommodate community. This is a coming to the table on a large scale, that holds the promise of shifting how we see our past and our future as a nation. Our family trees reach long and far indeed, with many finally linking their past to places beyond borders using documents, oral history and DNA.
Also consult the blogs of members of Black ProGen below (scroll down) to see more projects that take on various facets of genealogy to see examples of this broader change, and join us at BlackProGen LIVE twice monthly on YouTube.
Weighing what matters
I’m not saying that Alex Haley’s work cannot be analyzed for the errors it contains, but instead, that the weight of its context and the moment of its production mattered. Cited in The NY Times (and unnamed in a later article) was eminent Yale historian Edmund Morgan, who recognized that Roots was “a statement of someone’s search for identity… it would seem to me to retain a good deal of impact no matter how many mistakes the man has made. In any genealogy there are bound to be a number of mistakes.” Morgan was the author of American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (1975), a title that points to the persistent contradiction in the founding of this nation. Overall, historians were not alarmed. Ultimately, Haley’s book proved more novel than fact, but more importantly, it captured the imagination of millions, inspiring many to pursue their own genealogy and family history. The stakes were high for claiming a rightful place as part of US history.
What Haley achieved at the time of the National Bicentennial was to tell a story of national import from a black perspective, as he hoped “his story of our people can help to alleviate the legacies of the fact that preponderantly the histories have been written by the winners.”. One early reviewer of his work noted, “And so, he did write his entire story from the Black perspective which is sorely needed to connect the institutions and fill the void left by the omission of ‘objective’ white historians, the winners in the war of human degradation—slavery…. it is the cultural history laid bare upon the canvas of time devoid of the misconceptions and misinterpretations of a people rationalizing their sins against humanity.”
Roots and its subsequent miniseries did not omit the range of violence perpetrated on a fully human people and claimed a historical place in the narrative of America. It countered a dominant historical and legal framework of being partially human at best, and defied the weight of stereotypes from popular media. Roots is not a pretty picture of inheritance, but instead one that spoke to audiences the realities of enslavement, resilience, continuity and survival in a vivid, cinematic fashion, from a narrative with an origin in the spoken word. That challenge and denial of oral history as a legitimate basis of the experiences of people of color is slowly eroding…. Slowly.
There is an equivalence in the genealogical field that is beginning to be dismantled, an implicit claim whereby scholastic levels of genealogy equates to whiteness. Yet to paraphrase Audrey Lorde, one cannot dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools. This work is done as the field opens up to POC more broadly, who bring a different set of experiences, lineages and techniques that draw upon contexts both within and outside of traditional genealogy. It is also up to genealogists who are not POC to weigh what that legacy is and how it impacts the who, what and where of their practice.
In order to see the connection between genealogy and the ideology of whiteness more clearly, one has to go back to the 1880s, when genealogy was part of the toolkit for the pseudoscience of eugenics. This was a conduit for previous ideas about racial inferiority from the previous century, now cloaked in respectable ‘science’. It was buttressed by social and institutional dynamics that maintain racial hierarchies and racialized public policies and institutional practices, a shifting framework that is still in operation today.  It is a discourse of social division and superiority emergent after the election of November 2016, thrown into relief by the events at Charlottesville, Virginia.
Eugenics: technologies of segregation, genealogy & policy
At its most basic, eugenics is a set of beliefs and practices about how to improve the human population. There was ‘positive eugenics’ aimed at promoting sexual reproduction among those with desired traits and ‘negative eugenics’, which sought to limit certain populations from reproducing. The movement started in the UK and spread to many countries, including the US and Canada in the early twentieth century. This instigated the formation of programs intent on improving the population, that led to marriage prohibition and forced sterilization programs. These experiences are part of thousands of family histories tied to experimentation, social policies, with roots in settler colonialism.
Genealogy was important to eugenicists, because it was a map that traced the transmission of ‘defective germ-plasm’ through families, which contrasted with the legacy of white western men with genealogies of ‘quality’. This ultimately translated into policies that generated thousands of sterilizations, destroyed families with the fear of miscegenation, and transformed poverty into a problem of the individual, not society. Yet many states passed laws, as did Virginia that led to over 7,000 people being sterilized– and increasingly as archives make these documents available to the public, a better understanding of the high cost of eugenic policy emerges. Many paid, and continue to pay with their lives.
Paul Popenoe & Roswell Hill Johnson’s Applied Eugenics (Macmillan, 1918) is an appalling and unapologetically racist book. In it, the authors suggest that genealogy become the study of heredity and the legacy of traits in a family. It denies the backdrop of colonialism and slavery to blame peoples of African descent, immigrants and those living in poverty for the conditions that result from exploitation. Conveniently, context does not come into their analysis: “The historical, social, legal and other aspects of genealogy do not concern the present discussion. We shall discuss only the biological aspect…” Genealogy was seen as the way to accomplish the goal of identifying certain lineages as social problems to be dealt with via policy decisions.
Consider the backdrop for the publication of this text- in 1915, Popenoe presented his paper on eugenics at the First International Congress of Genealogy, sponsored by the California Genealogical Society and held during the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. That same February that this world’s fair opened, also saw the release of D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, 3 hours of racist propaganda that fired up the Lost Cause, the KKK and stoked racial violence. None of this is lost on myself as a colonial subject, a Taino woman of ethnic admixture with a disability, who was elected and happened to be the first POC to become President of the California Genealogical Society just a century later. I worked with the board to change our motto to “Connecting people to their diverse family heritage.” I imagine Mr. Popenoe is spinning in his grave.
Over three decades, eugenic explanations went over big in the US. The authors pointed to the centrality of genealogy in delivering eugenics as a means to controlling populations ‘scientifically’:
“The science of genealogy will not have full meaning and full value to those who pursue it, unless they bring themselves to look on men and women as organisms subject to the same laws of heredity and variation as other living things. Biologists were not long ago told that it was essential for them to learn to think like genealogists. For the purpose of eugenics, neither science is complete without the other; and we believe that it is not invidious to say that biologists have been quicker to realize this than have genealogists. The Golden Age of genealogy is yet to come.” 
Medicine, law, sociology and statistics were seen as the beneficiaries of genealogical information collected at centers in the US. This led to some 60,000 Americans being sterilized in the US between 1907 and the 1970s. 
Popenoe’s book offers justifications for segregation, and falls back on phrenology’s racial hierarchies for explanations of inferiority as intrinsic to the body. In terms of the black body, the book conflates the limitations of resources with a lack of progress, noting that “If so, it must be admitted that the Negro is different from the white, but that he is eugenically inferior to the white.”
Those who did better on the tests were surmised to have “more white blood in them” and proceeds to determine a racial quantum based on percentages as did Thomas Jefferson in his Notes on the State of Virginia (1781), and the eighteenth century Casta paintings of Mexico. . You can revisit some of Jefferson’s ideas about African peoples excerpted here .
It follows that Papenoe and Hill Johnson proposed to prohibit interracial marriage, and their chapter on ‘The Color Line’ culminates with recommendations to put this into law as four states did (LA, NV, SD, AL) by 1918, before turning to immigration. 
Across the text, begins to appear the familiar language that Nazi Germany put into operation— the idea that the colonizers of North America were of the Nordic race appears on p 301, and proposals for implementing sterilization to stop those ‘whose offspring would probably be a detriment to race progress.”  The plan is to remove people to a colony, tracts of land with large buildings to separate out the unwanted  
The idea of separation and segregation was one endorsed by law across the US and funded by various non-profits that discovered ways to ‘elevate’ those with ‘Nordic’ ancestry, while subjecting the poor, infirm, immigrants and people of color to identities and practices such as sterilization that reinforced their subjugation. As historian Edwin Black noted, “California was the epicenter of the eugenics movement” that had “extensive financing by corporate philanthropies, specifically the Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Harriman railroad fortune. They were all in league with the some of America’s most respected scientists hailing from such prestigious universities as Stanford, Yale, Harvard and Princeton.”
Charities were paid to seek out immigrants in “crowded cities and subject them to deportation, trumped up confinement or forced sterilization.” The Rockefeller Foundation even funded a program that Josef Mengele worked in before he went on to Auschwitz. It comes as no surprise then, that such organizations propagandized for the Nazis, and funded them in Germany. If one fell beyond the gentrified genetic lines such as those persons who worked, researched and enabled the legal structures of these programs, those deemed weak or unfit were subject to extraction.
In August 1934, California eugenicists arranged for a Nazi scientific exhibit to be shown at the LA County Museum as part of the Annual Meeting of the American Public Health Association. Such exhibits legitimized what circulated in American popular culture through the 1920s and 1930s at state fairs and even world fairs. Similar ideas are circulating today within Far Right channels and from members of the US Government today; internationally, we see the growth of this ideology spread within sites of settler colonialism.
Eugenics hit its nadir within a decade through its association with Nazi Germany, and later testimony at the Nuremberg trials, where human rights abuses carried out as eugenics programs were claimed to be little different than the US.  What is problematic is that wherever such programs are employed, the criteria of selection are determined by whatever group is in political power. 
It is precisely this history that the field of genealogy has to recover from.
As a field, genealogical practice has expanded beyond the accumulation of facts and details to encompass the social histories of those overlooked or at risk of falling into obscurity. Cemeteries are being restored and along with that, the local histories of suppressed, exiled or earlier occupants of towns and cities are coming into visibility- and let us include and embrace our diasporic connections and activities within this circle.
Documentaries, podcast series like those of Angela Walton-Raji’s African Roots podcast and Bernice Bennett’s Research at the National Archives and Beyond help to disseminate new information, findings and work through social media channels. These sources have reached audiences well beyond the journal publications of various genealogical and historical societies.
There is an opening up towards acknowledgement of past harms done to various communities, that acknowledge pain while transforming it into knowledge and sites where people can come to the table and support each other in unpacking the past. This is not a kumbaya moment, but one where the aftermath of enslavement and its social and institutional reach into the present can be faced.
DNA adds another dimension, revealing past relationships that range from the coercive to the consensual that happened, and when augmented by oral history and documents, the process literally brings into visibility parts of ourselves through enslaved ancestors, free and freed people and slave holders. There are many of us who seek the receipts that establish this more contentious family history, fraught with scars and triumphs, that confirms and grounds a movement toward freedom and self determination.
The fears of the last century about the reach of one book that captured the imagination of millions as a faulty model for genealogical research were ultimately unfounded. After Haley’s book was published and the program series Roots aired, “letters of inquiry and applications to use the National Archives rose 40%. General interest in genealogy continues, as it offers a path to situate personal history in the larger context of national history, and to continuing education.
Recently, course offerings for genealogists are focused on writing family histories, and now, genealogical societies are taking it one step further and offering seminars on writing historical fiction based on family history. What the Abolitionist movement of the nineteenth century knew was that an audience had to hear not just facts, but a narrative, conveyed by a powerful voice or on the page, and if possible, to offer visual proof through photographs— all media used to convey their urgent message.
Ultimately, our task is to make visible and thereby end the historical erasure of difference (ethnic, race, gender, class) in the historical and genealogical record, and thereby honor those who came before us, our ancestors and their struggles.
1. BlackProGen LIVE, 11 October 2016. Ep.20b Talks Diversity in Genealogy and Family HIstory. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G1Z7Anc4Fj8&t=2s
2. Nicka Smith, “The Problem of the Color Line”, Who is Nicka Smith?.com http://www.whoisnickasmith.com/genealogy/the-problem-of-the-color-line/
3. Elizabeth Shown Mills and Gary B. Mills. “The Genealogist’s Assessment of Alex Haley’s Roots.” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 72 (March 1984): 35–49. 35-36. Digital image. Elizabeth Shown Mills, Historic Pathways. http://www.HistoricPathways.com : [9 Oct 2016].
4. “Although some Americans have been conditioned to superimpose racial divisions upon almost all aspects of life, such academic distinctions cannot exist in the science of genealogy. It is true, at the same time, that certain procedures in the pursuit of black genealogy do differ from those in the pursuit of English genealogy, that the pursuit of ancestral research among white Creoles of Louisiana is different from that among the Pilgrims of Massachusetts, that research in Virginia differs from research in Tennessee, that research on black families in Alabama differs from that on black families in New York.” Elizabeth Shown Mills and Gary B. Mills. “The Genealogist’s Assessment of Alex Haley’s Roots.” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 72 (March 1984): 35–49. 35-36. Digital image. Elizabeth Shown Mills, Historic Pathways. http://www.HistoricPathways.com : [9 Oct 2016]
5. Gary B. and Elizabeth Shown Mills, “ROOTS and the New ‘Faction’ a Legitimate Tool for Clio?.” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 89:1, Jan 1981, 4. Digital image. Elizabeth Shown Mills, Historic Pathways. http://www.HistoricPathways.com : 15 Oct 2016.
6. “The structural racism lens allows us to see more clearly how our nation’s core values— and the public policies and institutional practices that are built on them — perpetuate social stratifications and outcomes that all too often reflect racial group sorting rather than individual merit and effort. The structural racism lens allows us to see and understand: the racist legacy of our past; how racism persists in our national policies, institutional practices and cultural representations; how racism is transmitted and either amplified or mitigated through public, private and community institutions; how individuals internalize and respond to racist structures. The structural racism lens allows us to see that, as a society, we more or less take for granted a context of white leadership, dominance and privilege.” The Aspen Institute Roundtable on Community Change, Structural Racism and Community Building. June 2004, 12. https://assets.aspeninstitute.org/content/uploads/files/content/docs/rcc/aspen_structural_racism2.pdf Accessed 9 Oct 2016.
7. See the steps and bibliography for James Ison’s syllabus “Using the Genealogical Proof Standard for African American Research” presented at two national conferences in 2010 https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/Using_the_Genealogical_Proof_Standard_for_African_American_Research Accessed 15 Oct 2016
8. Edmund Morgan quoted in Israel Spencer, NYT, 10 Apr 1977; in Mills, “ROOTS and the New ‘Faction’, 4.
9. Alex Haley, quoted in Nancy Arnetz, “From His Story to Our Story: A Review of “Roots”. Journal of Negro Education, 46:3, Summer 1977, 367-372. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2966780, 367
10. Arnetz, “From His Story to Our Story: A Review of “Roots”. Journal of Negro Education, 367-372, 368.
11. “Without community there is no liberation, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between and individual and her oppression. But community must not mean a shedding of our differences or the pathetic premise that these differences do not exist. Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucible of difference— those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older— know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only means of support.” Lorde’s title and her question remain pertinent: “What does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy?” It is important to note that this seminal essay was written in acknowledgement of the lack of participation of Third World women of color at NYU’s Institute for the Humanities Conference. Audry Lorde, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Ed. Berkeley Press, 1984. http://muhlenberg.edu/media/contentassets/pdf/campuslife/SDP%20Reading%20Lorde.pdf Accessed 16 Oct 2016.
12. Consider the development of networks of genealogical organizations AAHGS and institutes, such as MAAGI, the AAHGS’ Afrigeneas.org project, the explosion of genealogical groups on Facebook, and efforts such as the transcription of the Freedmen’s Bank papers on FamilySearch among many others that point to the blossoming of the field. There remains more to be done in terms of acceptance and incorporation of difference for genealogy by POC.
13. “Structural Racism Produces Racialized Outcomes.” See Chart, Structural Racism and Community Building. The Aspen Institute Roundtable on Community Change. June 2004, p12. https://assets.aspeninstitute.org/content/uploads/files/content/docs/rcc/aspen_structural_racism2.pdf
In reviewing a transcription of notary documents, I came across a pair of Hernandez sisters whose sale of property in mid century Aguadilla included 15 enslaved ancestors in total. What can we learn about the context of their lives? And can these details extend out to make connections to descendants today? I’ve gone over several connected documents, two records of sale, and several wills, all tied to Caimital Alto in Aguadilla in 1854. It’s about four miles inland from the coast.
Documents & context
In May 1854, Da. María de Pilar y Da. María Dolores Hernandez Portalatin went before the notary with D. Juan Jose Duprey, to whom they decided to sell their inheritance. The two Marias were the daughters of D. Juan Hernandez and Da. Rosa Portalatin Hernandez, who filed a will two years earlier. Duprey, like the Hernandez Portalatin sisters, also lived in Caimital Alto, Aguadilla, as did the sixteen people they held in bondage. Eventually these properties were tied to the history of sugar that goes back to the 16th century and the start of the African slave trade that brought some 15 million Africans to the New World, while only 2 million Europeans emigrated.
Gleaning details & a little history of Aguadilla
The names mentioned in the wills show three distinct networks of relationships tied by blood, or property, with large tracts of land subdivided among siblings and families, or sold, with the final transaction recorded by a notary.
The documents may contain a description of structures with useful details, such as the names of the other families that bordered their property, and often one finds siblings, cousins, among them. Given the focus on the economic history of the movers and shakers of hacendado society, here is something different, a microhistory that sheds light on the labor of POC that made it all possible, over the course of a year, 1854.
Aguadilla was founded in 1775, the last municipality established out of the former Partido de la Aguada, under the Capitan poblador Juan Bernardo de Sosa, who happens to be my 6th GGF. At that time, the town consisted of 58 homes and bohios with 195 families. By 1812, the municipality was at 6,196 people, 1,273 lived in the pueblo, 4,523 across the rural area, with 647 enslaved persons providing the labor for sugar, coffee and other agricultural produce in addition to an entire range of projects and duties.
Urban development in Aguadilla was a slow process— until 1817 a bohio (hut) was used for the official government buildings of the Casa del Rey and a jail, when a new stucco building was constructed. Until 1823, one road, the Camino Real connected Aguadilla to Isabela and Aguada, and some plantation owners did not want the trouble of a road nearby their complexes. As the population of the city grew, during the 1820s, several fires struck the urban sector, destroyed dozens of homes, which led to the construction of new streets near the plaza. By 1837, three rural barrios were established and Caimital was one of them, divided by the Sierra Jaicoa into Caimital Alto and Caimital Bajo. Over the next two decades the urban areas continued to grow and markets expanded. Ultimately, these situations provided advantages for those in the municipality.
Back to the Sale Document: Property, Land & Human
According to folios 226-228 of the sale by Maria Pilar and Maria Dolores Hernandez Portalatin, living adjacent to the south side of the property in Caimital was their sister Anistacia Hernandez Portalain, on the east, Carlos de la Rosa, and to the west, Maria Lopez, widow of Luis Cubero, an emigre from the Canary Islands. The house in town was on a 22 x 40 vara (61 x 111 ft) lot, next to D. Juan Chico in one side, and on the other D Lino Acevedo, conveniently located near the town plaza.
D. Lino Acevedo is Martin Lino Acevedo y Lopez de Segura (1817-1891) my 1C4R, while his wife Maria Domitila Talavera Hernandez is my 3G Aunt; they married in 1852 and had at least 4 children. One daughter, Domitila Acevedo Talavera 1C3R (1863) married the surgeon Dr. Julian Benejam Dominguez of Moca. The Benejam family were also slave owners.
Lino’s grandfather (and my 4th GGF) is Capt. Martin Lorenzo de Acevedo y Hernandez del Rio (1749-1828), whose string of titles demonstrated the rise of the Lorenzo de Acevedo among the colonial ruling class of NW PR- Alferez Real of Aguada, Teniente de Guerra and Alcalde for Moca between 1792 and 1810, despite his advanced age. Lino’s father, Juan Martin Lorenzo de Acevedo y Gonzalez, and his second wife, Marta Rosa Maria Lopez de Segura y Vives (my GGGG Uncle and Aunt) served as Alcalde (Mayor) of Aguadilla and approved the plans for building streets near the plaza in the 1820s.
All of them were involved in some level of slave owning, and it remains to be seen which ancestors were involved in some kind of Abolitionist project. I can understand that between these tight bounds of blood, land, and power, they would not be partial to the project of freedom. I can say that many seem to have disposed of their small holdings in the latter half of the 19th century to the progressively large companies that formed to deal with wringing profit out of sugar, coffee and people.
Fifteen Ancestors, some born in Africa
In preparation for the impending sale, there was the stress of the examination violating personal boundaries for an event that potentially threatened to divide families. In this case, everyone and everything was sold to d. Juan Jose Duprey Navarro.
9 males, 6 females – 15 total – (values that follows are estimates from Measuring Worth website.)
Nicolás (1826) born in Africa 28 valued at 400 pesos, €1,840.00
Valentín (1841) 13 valued at 200 pesos, €919.00
Policarpo (1850) 4 valued at 150 pesos, €689.00
Juan (1820 ) 34 born in Africa, valued at 400 pesos, €1,840.00
Encarnación (1832) 22 valued at 300 pesos, €1,380.00
Carolina (1853) 2 valued at 160 pesos, €735.00
Clotilde (1838) 16 valued at 320 pesos, €1,470.00
Dominga (1840) 14 valued at 290 pesos, €1,330.00
Ramona (1832) 22 valued at 350 pesos, €1,610.00
Celestina (1852) 2 valued at 100 pesos , €459.00
Enrique (1827) 27, born in Africa, valued at 300 pesos, €1,380.00
Joaquín (1842 ) 12 valued at 260 pesos, €1,190.00
Rosa, (1832 ) 22, born in Africa, valued at 350 pesos, €1,610.00
Victoriano 3 (1851) valued at 100 pesos, €459.00
Eugenio 13 (1841) valued at 350 pesos, €1,610.00
The total value of these 15 souls in Euros is €18,521 which equals $22,892 in today’s dollar.
Those assigned the highest values were Nicolas and Juan, both born in Africa, while the women’s values ranged according to age, apparently priced in anticipation of the potential of the child bearing capacity of Carolina, while the 16 year old Clotilde was assigned the next highest value after Ramona and Rosa, both age 22.
I squirm considering these young teenage girls sold among these documents, wondering what led to the sale and whether they were being sold from one adult male to another in a form of trafficking with multiple consequences that could range from violence, death to rape. This coercive dimension was constantly present and surviving these experiences continued regardless.
An Unexpected Reversal
Oddly enough, on July 1854, Juan Jose Duprey Navarro sold back the entire farm along with the enslaved people listed before, to D. Juan Hernandez and his daughter, Maria del Pilar Hernandez Portalatin for the same amount– 10,071 pesos, which was their inheritance from their mother Rosa. Was this planned, a means of delaying arrangement because of funds or, was the sale simply imperiled by the death of one party?
For this second transaction, the enslaved ancestors are listed as a group:
“los esclavos Nicolas de 28 años, Policarpo de 4 años, Valentin de 13 años, Juan [,] Encarnación, Clotilde, Lorenza, Dominga, Ramona, Celestina, Enrique, Celestino, Joaquín, Rosa, Victoriana y Eugenia”
Note the slight differences- the mention of Celestino is new, while Victoriano and Eugenio have apparently become Victoriana and Eugenia.
Maria Dolores Hernandez Portalatin (1818 -1854)
After arranging the sale earlier that May, Maria Dolores Hernandez, age 36, made a will on 25 May 1854. Three days later, she was buried in Aguadilla. Sudden illness interrupted everything; she was married to D. Angel Gaya just eight months earlier. Gaya made a desirable partner, as he worked as part of Aguadilla’s administration, and so, would bring an income into the union. Although there were no children from the marriage, property was an issue. The solution to maintaining control over Dolores’ property was to have it revert to her father, D. Juan Hernandez; should he die, it would then go to her husband, D. Angel Gaya.
Mentioned in the will is her sister Timotea Hernandez, who preceded her in death, and willed Dolores a third of her goods; her sister Pilar, and her nephew Tomas Talavera Hernandez (b.1817), son of her dead sister Teresa Hernandez Portalatin, my third GGM. Another sister, Anastasia Hernandez was widowed, and that year also gave Angel Gaya permission to put her name forward in any business dealing with the affairs of her mother, Rosa Portalatin Hernandez. This is also the line of my grandfather’s grandmother, that goes back along a line of slaveowning people that by the 1860s, married with the Babilonias of Moca, if not earlier.
In 1854, Dolores Hernandez Portalatin held five people in bondage: Encarnacion and her four children, Dominga, Clotilde, Jose Elias and Carolina. All worked as enslaved servants in her home in Barrio Caimital, Aguadilla and as property, would revert to her father according to her will. Some of the persons have an age listed in the sale document to Duprey, so I have used that to create family groups.
June 1854, Another Sale – Angel Gaya & the sale of Dominga, 15
On 14 June 1854, Angel Gaya sought to settle his wife’s debts according to her will by selling the 15 year old Dominga, a servant for 300 pesos to D. Jose Eugenio Milan. Just eight days later, Milan sold Dominga to Da. Natividad Acevedo, wife of Jose Fulgencio Milan. Natividad Maria Acevedo Lopez was the daughter of Juan Martin Lorenzo de Acevedo y Gonzalez (1781-1844) my 4th G Uncle and his wife, Maria de la Encarnacion Lopez de Segura (ca 1786-bef 1854). Maria Encarnacion may be a sister or first cousin to his second wife, Marta Rosa Maria Lopez de Segura y Vives, whom he married in 1831. Both sides link to sets of my 4th Great Grandparents, which may help me figure out more about the people they bought and sold. I can’t help but wonder what happened to Dominga, born in 1839, sold and traded from one brother and his family to his sister in law and her family.
It’s also important to look at the parents of the Hernandez Portalatin sisters in order to see if there are additional details on these enslaved ancestors, who may appear in additional documents. Both parents, D. Juan Hernandez and Rosa Portalatin held significant properties, plantations that were among the largest in Aguadilla.
D. Juan Jose Duprey: From Guarico, Cap-Haitien to NW Puerto Rico
About 1803, Jean Baptiste Dupre and his wife Luisa Navarré e Doudins, French nationals from Guarico in Haiti, arrived in Puerto Rico, where their names were translated to Juan Bautista Duprey and Luisa Navarro. The couple bought wealth in the form of enslaved ancestors and currency that they used to buy land in Aguadilla, Aguada and Arecibo. They had twelve children, and after Duprey’s death in 1822, his wife divided the slaves and part of the land between a society (small group of investors) and Juan B. Doumerg. She eventually remarried, to a French-born plantation owner German L’Aufant Nalo in Aguadilla in 1826. It remains unclear as to what was the Duprey’s situation, and whether they were or were related to largest and wealthiest free population of color in the Caribbean, as were some families from Hispaniola who arrived and settled in Aceituna for example.
There are extracts of parish registers from Haiti that may show Jean Baptiste Dupre as baptised on 13 February 1787, a date which still fits his timeline:
Dupré Jean Baptiste, figure sur le registre des baptêmes de Haïti (ex colonie française de Saint- Domingue), la date de son baptême figurant sur le registre était le 13 février 1787. There are a set of documents in the FamilySearch collection, Record of Foreign Residents in Puerto Rico, that includes the 1808 file on Duprey, which enabled the government to affirm his Spanish citizenship on Puerto Rico.
Juan Jose Duprey Navarro married Martina Cerezo Sosa (1817-1892) my 3C3R, daughter of Maria Manuela Sosa Vives (my 2C4R) and Ramon Cerezo Gallardo. Maria Manuela is the granddaughter of the Irish emigres on her maternal side, who arrived early to PR. Here too is involvement in slave owning that extends to more families. Josefa Maria Suarez Estopinan, with the help of her husband d. Epifanio Sosa, by matrimonial license notes “she gives royal sale to da. Martina Cerezo, wife of d. Juan Jose Duprey, for a servant slave named Rosa age 14, which she inherited from her mother, Maria Estopinan”, according to a document dated Juan 1841, for the price of 280 pesos. Thanks to her rights as a wife, Josefa was able to sell the 14 year old Rosa for a significant price, five years before her marriage.
Juan Jose’s brother, Luis Duprey Navarro owned Hacienda Casualidad in Barrio Guayabo, Aguada between 1845 and 1852; he also owned a brick factory there according to the Riqueza Industrial of 1852. Luis’ son and Juan Bautista’s grandson, Luis Duprey Gaya, married Ana Roque Geigel de Duprey in 1853. A recent pamphlet on her scientific work that culminated in a major botanical collection offers a brief overview of her life and included a significant incident without mentioning her husband.
The last paragraph states: “She was 19 years of age when she stopped someone from punishing her husband’s 80 slaves by making them kneel. It was 1872, one year before the Abolition of Slavery.”
However there is no other context given that connects slavery, the economic basis of her family’s business, to the larger context of education, and her position as a woman within a society that did not consider them academic equals, is explained solely in terms of developing public education. The juxtaposition is jarring as the fields of the sciences clash with the reality of the sugar and coffee cultivation in the Sierra Jaicoa of NW PR.
As with other plantation based families in NW PR, the Duprey Navarro family’s investment in sugar and coffee continued well into the 19th century.
The Struggle for Freedom in Saint Domingue
The arrival of the Dupreys is eventful when considered against the previous seven years. By 1795, a significant sale of enslaved persons occurred in Aguadilla, which included several imprisoned for their alleged role in the 1789-1791 uprising in Saint Domingue. However, the official plan of selling these prisoners from the French half of the island, across the sound in Puerto Rico to sell them here, simply brought the knowledge and experience of insurrection closer to home.
Precisely when the Dupreys show up in Puerto Rico isn’t specified, yet they were careful to note their arrival from Guarico, the original Indigenous name for the area, rather than Cap-Francaise, or after 1804, Cap-Haitien. Cap-Francaise was the capital of Saint Domingue until 1770, when Port-au-Prince became the capital until 1804. His papers simply state that he’s not in great health, and lives in the country with his family, no mention of his wealth in land and people. These kinds of reassurances serve to detach the explosive events of the last decade.
Yet the scale of slavery in Saint Domingue simply staggers: “The labor for these plantations was provided by an estimated 790,000 African slaves, accounting in 1783–1791 for a third of the entire Atlantic slave trade. Between 1764 and 1771, the average annual importation of slaves varied between 10,000 and 15,000; by 1786 it was about 28,000, and from 1787 onward, the colony received more than 40,000 slaves a year. However, the inability to maintain slave numbers without constant resupply from Africa meant the slave population in 1789 totalled to 500,000, ruled over by a white population that numbered only 32,000.” [Saint-Domingue, Wikipedia] At the cusp of the 19th century, this situation and the violence required to maintain it, is at the core of white fears in the Caribbean .
In October 1795, there was a slave uprising in Aguadilla, and historians suspect those sold here brought knowledge that inspired those enslaved here to resist. However, despite requests for the files in Spanish and Puerto Rican archives, official reports on the uprising are missing, which speaks to the strength of the desire to show that the island was under control by the government.
Another aspect as I have discussed before, were the close familial ties involved that could cast family members in a negative light. This is yet another reason for a report to conveniently be misplaced or lost, however at the same time, attempts to control the enslaved population continued by passing further restrictions in revamped versions of the Black Codes and instituting rules that reflected heightened fears, known as the ‘Haitian Syndrome’.
Ultimately for Puerto Rico, the uprising and the destruction of plantations in Saint Domingue, and the arrival of the Europeans, creoles, African and African descended peoples to the island was an incredible opportunity. The major provider of sugar and coffee lost its place in the world market, and Spain sought to raise its claim on the market. What hid behind the product was a hell on earth, morphing as the sources of sugar began to diversify.
Another factor to consider when tracing ancestors is an ongoing illegal traffic in slaves that escape count at times because purchasers of slaves had to pay a 25 peso fee to have the enslaved entered into official records. Will further knowledge of these lives eventually come to light?
This illegal traffic in turn, skews the numeric charts that list the number of blancos, pardos libres, negro esclavos & negros libres [whites, free people of color, black slaves and free blacks] at any given time on the island. This seems to come up when comparing the tallies for municipalities versus national totals, which tells us there’s more to know about this illegal trade in people.
Also, realize that the sale of enslaved persons in the Caribbean and North America and Europe has a long standing history, so that by the 1780s an enslaved man from the American south marries his partner in the parish church of Aguadilla. Did this marriage begin as a story of distant sale as a result of resistance? Could such narratives be traced back to these parish pages? The uprisings that led to the foundation of Haiti in 1804 struck fear into slaveholders yet they continued to refine their means of holding people in bondage, even as change began to flag an end to aspects of this economic system. Although the story of insurrection is constantly relegated to silence, the details seep out, and my hope is that these histories can be restored.
After Emancipation: the challenge of tracing families into freedom
Some of the persons who match the list in terms of name and age continued to live out their lives in Aguadilla after 1873. As the volume for the Third District of 1872 Registro de Esclavos is missing, I have not yet cross-referenced them with this record set, and plan to. Instead of bearing the name of the first slave holder, I find that some match Duprey, or different surnames. The Duprey family had extensive holdings in Aguada, Arecibo and other properties in Aguadilla and Moca. Clearly, I will need these additional records to find the others listed.
In order to locate them, I used a very simple search, using the name and the date to see what might come up both in Ancestry and FamilySearch.org. Next, I checked additional details regarding potential locations, mentions of names and then cross reference those finds out, to build some branches.
Clotilde, Age 16
Among the 15 people was Clotilde. “Clotilde, 16 valued at 320 pesos”, I believe is the same woman as Clothilde Medrano/Lopez/Rosa b. 1838 in the Registro Civil.
She was the daughter of Cecilia Medrano (bca 1818), and continued a single female household of six children, named in her Acta: Pedro, Francisco, Sofia, Genara, Nicolasa and Carlos. During the course of her 50 years, she saw many changes, and raised seven children, some of whom are in the Registro Civil. She died in Barrio Victoria, an urban section of the pueblo of Aguadilla.
Her nephew, Mariano Abril reported her death. He worked as an agricultural day laborer who lived in Barrio Victoria, the same ward where Clotilde lived and died. This was not far from Barrio Pueblo of Moca. The informant for Clotilde is Mariano Abril Sanjurjo, (1853-1912). The relationship may be via his wife, Emilia Alonso Rosa (1862-1907). Mariano and Emilia’s son, Mariano Abril Alonso (1882-1960) was at one point, the partner of my grandfather’s sister, Eduviges Monserrate Babilonia Lopez (1895-1979) of Moca. It seems that neither Emilia nor her parents were married, adding more complexity to a search along that line for the family connection between Mariano and Clotilde. Regardless, the connections now span over a century.
A daughter of Clotilde’s, Nicolasa Medrano, moved to Utuado and married Jose Roberto Feliciano Velez (1866-1933) of Lares, a member of the Policia Insular. On the certificates for Nicolasa’s death in Santurce and marriage in Lares are several details that matter: both she and her mother appear as Nicolasa Lopez and Clotilde Lopez of Aguadilla, and Francisco Lopez is named as her father, and her mother appears under yet another surname, as Clotilde Rosa in her marriage certificate of 1897. The rest of the details concerning her husband are consistent. It is entirely possible that her father’s name was finally revealed to her late in life; he may be from Aguada or Aguadilla, and could be ‘blanco’ or light skinned, as she is identified as ‘mulata’.
A son, Francisco Medrano (bca 1862), married Maria Martinez of Maricao and had at least four children born between 1885-1889— Amelia, Maria de la Cruz, Francisco and Luis Medrano Martinez in Las Marias.
Another daughter, Sophia Medrano (1866-1916) lived in Barrio Guayabo, Aguada and died there of pneumonia in 1916.
I hope to learn more about these ancestors, and hope to post more in future.
If you’re related to someone mentioned in this post, Mabrika (Welcome)— please feel free to leave a comment and connect!
Angel Nieves Acevedo, Historia de Aguada Editorial Aymaco: lulu.com, 2012.
Angel Nieves Acevedo, Historia de Aguadilla, 1775-1899. Editorial Aymaco: lulu.com, 2012.
Antonio Nieves Mendez, Historia de un pueblo: Moca 1772-al 2000. Editorial Aymaco: lulu.com 2008.
Carlos Encarnacion Navarro, transcription. Instituto de Cultura Puertorriquena, Archivo General de PR, Fondo de Protocolos Notariales, Caja 1289, Serie- Aguadilla, Pueblo- Aguadilla, Escribano Lcdo. Manuel Garcia Ano 1854. Folios fol.226-v (a) 228, fol.310-v a 312
Carlos Encarnacion Navarro, transcription. Instituto de Cultura Puertorriquena, Archivo General de PR, Fondo de Protocolos Notariales, Caja 1434, Escribanos- Otro Funcionarios, 1852-1878, Cedula Testamentaria, Da. Dolores Hernandez, 25 May 1854.
Raquel Rosario Rivera, La presencia haitiana en Puerto Rico 1791-1850. 2015
Raquel Rosario Rivera, La presencia dominicana en Puerto Rico 1791-1850. 2015.
“Para la misma fecha (1803) se domicilia en Aguadilla Juan Bautista Dupre (Duprey), natural de Francia. Esta familia procedente del Guarico Francés, Haití, trajo fortuna en metálico y esclavos, adquirieron terrenos en Aguadilla, Arecibo y Aguada. El matrimonio de don Juan Bautista y doña Luisa Navarré y Doudins, natural de Haití tuvo doce hijos. Al morir el Señor Duprey en 1822 en Aguadilla, la viuda dividió los esclavos y parte de los terrenos que tenía en sociedad con el señor Juan B. Doumerg. Doña Luisa Navarré casó en segundas nupcias en Aguadilla el 12 de octubre de 1826, con el hacendado don Germán L’Aufant y Naló 7, natural de Niche, Francia. De este enlace sólo tuvo un hijo Adrián, quien nació en Aguadilla en 1827, y murió en Bremen, Alemania, en 1845.“
Haydee Reichard de Cancio, “Los Dominicanos en Aguadilla.” PReb.com Accessed Feb 8, 2018.
“Juan Bautista Duprey.” Record of Foreign Residents in Puerto Rico. FamilySearch.org https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/1919700 Accessed 10 Feb 2018.
Données diverses Saint-Domingue, Guyane Généalogie. http://www.guyanologie.fr/Haiti.php?recherche=DUPRE&ty Accessed 10 Feb 2018.
Elvian Martinez Mercado, “Una scientifica rebelde: Los cuadernos recuperados de al Botanica antillana, Ana Roque de Duprey.” Para la Naturaleza. Centro de Periodismo Investigativo.
Note there is no father, Casto Medrano, this is a mangling of Cecilia Medrano, Clotilde’s mother in the transcription. “Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJ8-5F2G : 17 July 2017), Clotilde Medrano, 29 Oct 1888; citing Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).
“Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJX-XY98 : 16 July 2017), Clotilde Medrano in entry for Sofia Medrano, 19 Dec 1916; citing Aguada, Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).
“Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJ4-1RVJ : 17 July 2017), José Roberto Feliciano and Nicolasa López, 29 May 1897; citing Lares, Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).
“Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJX-WVMZ : 17 July 2017), Nicolasa Medrano in entry for Rosa Maria Feliciano Medrano, 24 Nov 1903; citing Utuado, Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).
Note the mangling of ‘Feliciano’ in the transcription. “Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJS-9BKH : 17 July 2017), Nicolasa Lopez de Petroconio, 06 Apr 1933; citing Santurce (San Juan), Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).
As three historians of Cuban slavery recently wrote,”Los notarios eran parte de este sistema de “escribir la esclavitud.” — Notaries were part of this system of “writing enslavement”, literally creating the legal structures through documents that recorded and controlled the lives and movements of over 51,000 enslaved POC by 1846. In this way, the documents further defined citizenship within a slave holding society. What I thread together here is the history of several people held in bondage, the predicament of pursuing freedom, its purchase and my own project of transcribing parts of a missing volume these certificates were entered into. At the end of this article is a translated list of names of those enslaved ancestors who gained freedom from one transcribed box of notarial documents.
The run of notarial documents in Caja 1444 show that between January 1848 and the end of January 1852, the elites of Moca freed, sold and bought enslaved people. Some distinctions made between those who were servants versus those who were laborers, but when a Carta de emancipación (Letter of Freedom) was issued, the bearer had proof of freedom that hopefully, led to self determination.
Several things become clear in this particular collection of notary documents, only 19 slaveholders liberated their human property, while 61 slave holding inhabitants continued to participate in selling them. Despite any bonds of blood or call to family that might exist, the exchange of money was paramount. The odds of gaining freedom in mid-nineteenth century Puerto Rico were indeed challenging.
The plaza at the center of Barrio Pueblo was used for drying coffee, and this 1914 image is telling of Moca’s deeply agricultural context. This town center was the neighborhood where many who gained their freedom moved to in search of employment. At this time, just 41 years after the end of slavery in Puerto Rico in 1871, a significant number of people from elders to adults had some experience with enslavement. I met their descendants in 2000s, and if we speak of context, there is not a single family member untouched by slavery.
Those Who Were Freed
Eight of those freed were male and eleven were female, the youngest being Ramona, 7 months old, and the oldest, Marcos, 70, born in Santo Domingo about 1781. He may have witnessed the events of the Haitian Revolution prior to reaching Puerto Rico; Ramona, if she survived, may have witnessed the string of uprisings that went across Northwest Puerto Rico with the Grito de Lares in 1868, and perhaps actively participated in the struggle for equality that continued for decades.
Some may still carry their memories, so there may be oral histories that tell of their lives. At the very least, their traces in the historical record speak to the constraints they had to live under, and hope for a better life after emancipation despite a spectrum of challenges.
The Emancipation of Mauricio and Ramona
Among those who gained their freedom were children, among them Mauricio 1 1/2 whose mother Monserrate paid for his letter of emancipation; 7 month old Ramona was purchased by Maria Encarnacion from d. Alberto Soto. In 1848, Maria Candelaria paid her slaveowner d. Cristobal Benejan for her own freedom, and in 1850, was able to buy that of her two-year-old daughter Maria, who was born on Benejan’s property and was raised by Paula, another enslaved woman who worked there. As of 1849, “…colonial authorities permitted interested parties to purchase the freedom of infant slaves at the time of baptism, for the sum of twenty-five pesos. The infant however, remained with the master who owned his/her mother until he/she reached adulthood.”  So far, there is no indication that freedom was Benejan’s intention.
One wonders what might have transpired within those two years, and how these free women worked to support their families. They became part of the free community that moved away from the rural agricultural areas to Barrio Pueblo. Here they worked providing services such as cooking, laundering, childcare, dressmaking and lacemaking among others, that continues into the present. Benejan descendants still live near the Plaza in Barrio Pueblo, Moca today.
In a transcription project on the 1870 Registro de Esclavos I’m working on, Cristobal Benejan y Suria was among the largest slave holders in Moca, with 54 persons. At this point in 1870, another three years of labor was required prior to emancipation.
Note this was 36 months of uncompensated labor, caught up in expectations of gratitude toward former owners on the part of the freed. Historian lleana Rodriguez-Silva wrote that “Political practices such as gratitude highlight the liberal features of benevolence and paternalism and undermine efforts to critique the structures of power, especially through critiques of racialized domination.”  So, the histories of abolition in the Caribbean were revised and rewritten to celebrate rather than expose how power functioned in the lives of POC.
Among the certificates of those owned by Benejan in the Registro, Paula’s name appears as the mother of Loreto, 11 (b.1859), and Calista, 1 (b.1869). There is a certificate for Paula, 29 (b. 1849) daughter of Juana, born the same year Maria Candelaria gained her freedom. What happened to the Paula that cared for Maria Candelaria’s daughter Maria? Was Paula freed in the two decades after she was entrusted with the care of Maria? Did she pass away before 1870? I’m left with more questions than I can answer.
Looking at my own tree, I have distant connections to the Benejam via marriage to another slaveholding family, the Lorenzo de Acevedo. Even one of my recent atDNA matches points to this connection on FTDNA, and there are likely more 4-5th cousins out there, like myself, with genetic ties to both slaveowner and those they enslaved.
The Benejam originate in Menorca, among the smaller of the Baleáricos Islands. They arrived in Puerto Rico during the 18th century, and became an important family in Moca, owning land and people that they freed after 1870. Cristobal Benejam purchased Juan from the parish priest Pbo.Jose Balbino David, who functioned as a local small slave dealer during the 1850s, buying and selling people to various individuals.
Living Transactions: currency & human devaluation
During the nineteenth century, the Puerto Rican economy struggled with a mistrust of paper currency, rudimentary banking practices and a lack of coinage. What was used were pesos macuquinos (‘Cob coin’), a silver coinage removed from circulation in Venezuela, and instead, was in circulation on the island for nearly a half century, without a real banking system. This meant real money was scarce.  Within this plantation economy, enslaved people were sold and the income from their sale was used by slaveholders to pay their own taxes and bills. The scant availability of cash on the island suggests the enormous difficulty of the situation that the enslaved faced in raising funds to purchase their own freedom, and the deep anxiety over maintaining family with the threat of sale and displacement constantly looming. Regardless, many continued their attempts and strategies to push for freedom.
Among the slave owners were Gonzalez, Perez del Rio, Benejan, Soto, Lopez, Vasquez, Salas, Suarez Otero, and de la Cruz; some entries give information on previous owners, and together with other notarial entries, one can glean details on the places those held in slavery by them lived and worked. The location of origin for most of the persons listed below was Puerto Rico, although some came from Costa Firme, Venezuela, the Dutch Caribbean islands, and Santo Domingo. The official inscribing the documents into the books was the mayor or Alcalde ordinario d.Casimiro Gutierrez de Canedo, as there was no official royal notary in Moca to record these acts between 1848 and 1852.
Almost all the persons listed paid for their freedom, with five cases granting unconditional freedom with no money involved. Aside from these cases, 32 pesos was the lowest price and 300 pesos the highest. The total amount spent by the enslaved for their freedom was 1,947 pesos macuquinos. Depending on the calculation, this may be equivalent to just over $10,600 US according to the Consumer Price index or $10,900 US in relative wages in today’s money. 
Given the scarcity of cash at the time, it is an astounding figure that illustrates the extractive nature of slavery that POC were forced to navigate in mid-nineenth century NW Puerto Rico.
Letters of Freedom, Moca, Puerto Rico, 1848-1852
20 Jan 1848: Pedro Gonzalez, 28, criollo (born in Puerto Rico), single, bought his freedom for 32 pesos from d. Faustino Perez del Rio. F1
24 Jan 1848: Eugenio, 26, criollo (born in Puerto Rico), single, bought his freedom for 250 pesos silver from d. Maximo Gonzalez. F2
8 Feb 1848: Mauricio, 1 1/2, freedom bought by his mother Monserrate for 25 pesos from d. Juan Jimenez. F5v
8 Jun 1848: Candelaria, bought her freedom for 68 pesos from d. Cristobal Benejans. F17v-18
24 Jul 1848: Ramona, 7 mo., mother Maria Encarnacion bought her freedom for 37 pesos from d. Alberto de Soto. F48v
24 Jul 1848: Tomasa, 35, criolla (born in Puerto Rico), mulata, servant her freedom purchased for 300 pesos from d. Felix Lopez and his wife Petrona Vega. Tomasa was “born in the home of another of their slaves named Paula.” F23-23v
24 Jan 1850: Maria Ylaria o Isidora 2, born on his property, mother Maria Candelaria bought freedom for 70 pesos from d. Cristobal Benejam. F25v-26.
8 May 1850: Felix, 60, ‘natural de la isla’ (born in Puerto Rico) light mulato, for good services, granted freedom from d. Manuel Salas’ (-1850) will. F48v
8 Aug 1850: Lorenzo, who resides in Moca bought freedom for 300 silver pesos from Jose de la Cruz of Lares, who bought him from Juan, Antonio y Francisco de la Cruz. F100-100v
15 Oct 1850: Maria de los Angeles, 26, servant, bought her freedom for 300 pesos from d. Maximo Gonzalez. F128-129
22 Nov 1850: Maria de la Encarnacion, servant, bought her freedom for 100 pesos maququinos from d. Alberto de Soto. F151
9 Apr 1851: Marcos, 70, born Santo Domingo, dark skinned, bought his freedom for 60 pesos from d. Francisco Roman. F52v-53
16 Aug 1851: Matias, 60, Dutch, tall, chocolate color, graying hair, regular front with honey colored eyes, thick nose, large mouth, bushy eyebrows, to be granted freedom for his service, obedience, respect and honor upon the death of da. Rosalia Perez. F170v-171
16 Aug 1851: Prudencio, 8, reddish color, passing hair, regular appearance, honey colored eyes, wide nose, small mouth to be granted freedom upon of da. Rosalia Perez. F171-171v
16 Aug 1851: Catalina, 40, single, reddish black color, passing hair, sad eyes, thick, wide nose wide mouth and bushy eyebrows, for good conduct from the first day, with honesty and activity proper to a slave to her masters to be freed upon the death of da. Rosalia Perez. F171v-172
29 Aug 1851: Teresa, 56, single, mulato, to compensate for her distinguished services with real love and constancy to be granted her freedom by d. Manuel Morales. His son d. Enrique Morales signed as his father did not know how to write. F176v-177
27 Oct 1851: Pedro Pablo, 30, born in Puerto Rico, single, mulato, reddish hair, regular appearance, regular nose, brown eyes, regular mouth and scant beard, purchases his freedom for 200 pesos maququinos from from d. Pedro Vargas. F227-227v
23 Dec 1851: Encarnacion, 40, born Costa Firme, Venezuela, given freedom for her good service via the will of d. Vasquez, via son d. Leonardo Vasquez. F304v
24 Jan 1852: Maria de la Cruz, 14 criolla (born in Puerto Rico), single, light mulato, household servant, straight hair, small round face , black eyes, properly placed nose, regular mouth, freedom purchased by her father Pedro Cordero for 205 pesos maququinos from d. Jose Suarez Otero, deceased, via da. Teresa Cordero, his widow. F20-20v
 Michael Zeuske with Orlando García Martínez & Rebecca J. Scott. “Estado, notarios y esclavos en Cuba. Aspectos de una genealogía legal de la ciudadania en sociedades esclavistas.” Cuba. De esclavos, ex-esclavas, cimarrones, mambises y negreros. 102-165; Table 7.2 Population Increases by Race, in Olga Wagenheim’s Puerto Rico: An Interpretive History, p. 151 for 1846 lists a total population of 443,139; 216,083 White; 175,791 Free People of Color, and Slave at 51,265. By 1869, this number drops by -12,196 to 39,069 persons. Olga Jimenez de Wagenheim, Puerto Rico: An Interpretive History, from Pre-Columbian Times to 1900. NY: Marcus Weiner Publishers, 1998.
 Cartas de emancipación de esclavos compiled from Carlos Encarnacion Navarro, Transcription, Caja 1444, Serie Aguadilla, Pueblo Moca, 20 Jan 1848-31 Jan 1852, Fondo de Protocolos Notariales, Archivo General de Puerto Rico. Translations and extracts are my own.
 Antonio Nieves Mendez, Historia de un pueblo Moca, 1772-2000. Lulu.com 2008, p.146. Ref. Caja 1444, f4.
 “The politics of gratitude refers to the dynamics through which many came to see abolition as an effort to modernize the island, an endeavor for which everyone should be morally indebted to abolitionists and their successors. The politics of gratitude thus provided the structures through which liberal reformists could preserve a racialized and patriarchal social order in the absence of slavery. In the process, liberals also constituted themselves as the only inter- mediaries between popular subjects and the imperial state.” lleana M. Rodriguez-Silva, “Abolition, Race, and the Politics of Gratitude in Late Nineteenth-Century Puerto Rico.” Hispanic American Historical Review 93:4 621-657. doi 10.1215/00182168-2351656
 “3556. Paula, 29, hija de Juana.” 1 Mar 1870. Registro de Esclavos, Moca, Dist. Aguadilla, Caja 4, FHC Film 1511797.
If your Puerto Rican ancestor is on this list, then we’re related!
Since the mid-2000s, my digital family is expanding, and I’m enjoying some new connections. I tested my autosomal DNA on 23&Me, Ancestry and FamilyTree DNA, uploaded to MyHeritage, DNA.Land and am faced with hundreds, well, since the original blogpost, it’s now thousands of matches. I’m finding that some of the people i’ve known via social media are also distant relatives. I think back on when I lived in NYC as a child and how many times family have told me, wow, I used to live up there (Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan) too, and I wonder how many of those folks who passed me on the street were tied by blood.
Thanks to my prima Teresa Vega, who has the Radiant Roots, Boricua Branchesblog, I’ve been introduced to DNA, FB groups and i’ve been getting to know a lot of family and potential family. Our connection is through Rosa Maria Caban Mendez (2C4R), great granddaughter of my 5th GGP, Juan Cabal and Margarita Ruiz born sometime in the 1730s- 1740s in Aguada, Puerto Rico. Through Sociedad Ancestros Mocanos, we’ve found that quite a few people in our group have discovered DNA connections beyond the documents. And let me tell you, the level of endogamy on some of these lines ‘te da mareo’! (just makes you dizzy)
TL Dixon, of the FB group Native American Ancestry Explorer and Roots & Recombinant DNAblog graciously reviewed my atDNA GEDmatch results and noted the distribution across several different populations from several continents. There weren’t really surprises in there, as a lot matched what I was able to track via documents, contextual history and etymology of the Babilonia surname.
More recently, I’ve had the good fortune to have Fonte Felipe who has the wonderful blog, Tracing African Roots: Exploring the Ethnic Origins of the Afro-Diaspora look at my African results on Ancestry.com and see what matches come up. I’ll write more about discovering these ancestral roots in future posts, as I slowly learn to bring together local history, documents, trees and now, chromosome mapping and triangulation. However, knowing surnames can help point you in the right direction as to where that 3rd or 4th cousin might link up to you.
The Gift of Knowledge
Look, i’m related to two people on the panel on Black ProGen LIve, connections that we discovered much later. Perhaps some of you wonder why i’m on Black ProGen? It’s because one needs a space to speak to the realities of being POC and how one identifies, knowing what techniques and readings are helpful when nobody in your immediate family really has roots in New England, England or Ireland. There is definitely some up there in the mix, but it’s negligible, and my DNA looks like it went through a fan- ethnicities tossed in with no immediate connections to Europe outside of my dad’s grandfather. This is the face of the slave trade & mass migrations in your genes.
And this process never, ever stops. It doesn’t necessarily include the life sustaining ties of kin, people who are the family you make. Remember that there are ties that go beyond blood, or close ties, that make it possible for you to be here. This floating community of family changes over the course of our lives, and I am proud to say that despite the challenges of time and space I have relationships that sustain and heal– yet my tree may not show it. This too is in part, a legacy of slavery.
So, if your Puerto Rican ancestor is on this list, then we’re related!
Family Lines: Those starred on the list below are tied to Haplogroup C1b2 on the maternal line, and C1b4 on the paternal line, which is the Taino DNA that is on both my X chromosomes. More than half of the people here are on my maternal line in the NW, Aguada-Moca-Aguadilla. On the paternal line in the NE, San Juan-Santurce-Rio Grande, there is Haplogroup C1b4 via my paternal grandmother, Angelina Calo Vazquez. Y Haplogroup is European, R-L51, via my paternal grandfather, Ramon Fernandez Matos. On my maternal line, my grandmother, Felicita Rodriguez Vale is the source of my C1b2, which I could fortunately trace back to Tomasa Mendez, born about 1740.
These results fit with the resulting map of 1st to 3rd cousins on Puerto Rico as generated by 23&Me. While locations are self-reported, the results are consistent with family on both sides of my tree, and later generations may have moved south, as I don’t necessarily have specific ancestors in Yauco or Ponce areas. Eventually some arrived in New York City among the thousands who came in the early decades of the 20th Century, many escaping conditions that stemmed from the hurricanes of 1899 and 1928 that mangled Puerto Rico.
There’s always so much more to learn!
The List of my known Great Grandparents:
ps. those born outside of Puerto Rico are noted.
GG Grandfathers –
BABILONIA ACEVEDO, Manuel Miguel Narciso (ca 1804- >1868) Moca
LOPEZ DE SEGURA Y DE SOSA, Buonaventura (ca1825 – <1895)